Exports to EU bounce back in February after record fall

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UK trade with the EU bounced back in February after it had seen a record slump following its exit from the trading bloc.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that exports to the EU rose by £3.7 billion – or 46.6% – following a £5.7 billion decline in January.

It said the increase was particularly driven by machinery, transport equipment and chemicals.

Many deliveries restarted after pausing for a month to get to grips with the new border arrangements, while the launch of the third UK lockdown had also affected January trade.

Nevertheless, February’s exports to the EU were still 11% below the same month last year, a sign of continued border friction.

Imports of goods from the EU also rebounded although less sharply, increasing by £1.2 billion – or 7.3% – in February.

They had suffered a record £6.7 billion decline – 29.7% – in January due to the disruption.

The latest ONS figures show that total UK exports to all countries increased by £2.2 billion, while total imports were £2.8 billion higher.

AJ Bell financial analyst Danni Hewson said: “There is also small comfort to be had in February’s trade figures.

“Exports to the EU, which dropped so dramatically off a cliff in January, have bungeed back up, though they are still £2 billion down on pre-Brexit levels.

“Notably imports from the EU were less resilient and remain more than £5 billion down.”

Hilary Benn MP, co-convenor of the new UK Trade and Business Commission, said: “These figures show a recovery in trade with the EU compared to the previous month, but exports to the Continent still remain well below the levels seen last year.

“More analysis is now needed to distinguish between the short-term impact of the coronavirus and the longer-term challenges posed by the end of the transition period.

“We know many smaller businesses are struggling to adapt to the end of the transition period as they face extra costs and bureaucracy.

“The Government should respond to the concerns of the businesses and communities affected and work to improve the current EU-UK agreement.”

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