Post-Brexit bounceback for exports continues as optimism grows over UK's economic recovery

Thu 13 May 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

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Goods exports to the EU rose again in March to bring them almost back to pre-Brexit levels, data from the Office for National Statistics has shown.

Trade into the EU grew for a second consecutive month following the historic plunge in exports of more than 40% in January.

Level with December

March exports to the EU rose by 8.6% to £12.7bn compared to figures for February, and are now almost level with December’s figure of £13.7bn, according to the Times.

Imports also climbed by £800 million in March after sinking by £6.6 billion in January and partially recovering by £1.2 billion in February.

Incomplete bounceback

Exports to the EU are still down 80% for the first quarter of 2021 compared with Q4 of 2020, however.

Thomas Sampson, associate professor in economics at the London School of Economics, told the Independent that the figures suggested the “incomplete bounceback” seen in February had in fact stalled in March.

He added that there is no certainty that trade will return to pre-Brexit levels in the near future.

Changing trade patterns

In a sign of the shift in commercial links away from Europe, imports of goods from the rest of the world were higher than EU imports for the first time since the ONS began collecting data in 1997.

Exports to the non-EU markets increased by 0.4% in Q1.


The broader economy was resilient during the second lockdown. 

ONS figures showed strong growth in March with a contraction of only 1.5% overall for Q1, despite the winter lockdown.

The figures were also better than expected – as recently as February, the Bank of England was predicting a 4.2% decrease in GDP for the period.

Increased optimism

In a sign of increasing confidence in the UK’s recovery, Goldman Sachs raised its economic growth forecast for the UK to 8.1% yesterday (12 May).

Ruth Gregory, senior UK economist at Capital Economics, also told the FT the economy was now on track to reach its pre-pandemic level before the end of the year.