Increased exports helps Northern Ireland record a trade surplus and the province maintains the lowest unemployment in the UK

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HMRC has published the latest regional trade figures which show exports and imports for 2019. Given the time period this data reflects Brexit uncertainty rather than Covid 19 turmoil. 

In the year to December 2019, the overall value of UK trade in goods exports increased by 2.1% to £346bn compared with the same period in 2018. The overall value of imports increased by 0.3% to £483bn.

There was an increase in the annual export value in Northern Ireland along with five of the 12 UK ‘regions’. Northern Ireland’s exports increased by 2.2% or £199m to £9bn which was 3% of the UK total.  

The leading regional exporter remained the SE with £46bn with Northern Ireland the smallest. The best performer in percentage terms was London which was up by 17.2%, with Yorkshire & The Humber falling by 6.3%.

There was an increase in the annual import value in Northern Ireland along with five of the 12 UK ‘regions’. Northern Ireland’s imports were up by 1.1% or 84m to £8bn which was 2% of the UK total. The figures, which are experimental, suggest that in 2017 Northern Ireland had a trading surplus in goods of c£1bn. The only other part of the UK to record a surplus was Scotland.

The leading regional importer of goods was the SE at £98bn with Northern Ireland the smallest. In percentage terms London added 12% to imports which compared with Scotland which reduced imports by 7%.

The Irish Republic was Northern Ireland’s biggest export market with machinery and transport equipment the best export. Most of the Northern Ireland’s imported goods also came from the Irish Republic with machinery and transport equipment was the biggest import.

Services

This month the ONS published data on regional services imports for 2017. The biggest component of services imported into the UK was £51bn of travel. This was 28% of the £181bn UK total imports of services.

Northern Ireland imported £1.6bn of services value in 2017 of which £700m was travel. The biggest importer of services was London at £60bn with Northern Ireland importing the smallest.

The data on services exports was released by the ONS last year which showed Northern Ireland exported £2.8bn of services. London exported the most services at £117bn with Northern Ireland the least.

Other data

The ONS has also published the latest regional construction sector data to December 2019 which again reflects Brexit uncertainty rather than Covid 19 turmoil. Compared with the previous quarter all parts of the UK recorded a decline with Northern Ireland posting a 1.33% drop to £1.7bn. The biggest decrease in the UK was 4.6% in the West Midlands; the SE was best with a 0.9% fall.

More pre-pandemic data from the ONS showed unemployment in the province was 2,000 higher at 22,000 between December and February; the uplift of 0.2% took the rate to 2.5%, the lowest in the UK; the NE had the highest rate at 5.6%, with the UK rate at 4%.

The South East had the highest employment rate at 80.1% which compared with 72.5% in Northern Ireland where 0.9m are employed; the UK rate was 76.6%.

Northern Ireland’s average property price (at December 2019) increased by 0.2% to £140,190. The uplift took the annual increase to 2.5%. In comparison, UK prices dropped by 0.6% to £230,332 during February, an annual growth rate of 1.1%.

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