So what of those 27 trade deals?

Time for a little light relief.

Much is made of the 27 countries queuing up to make trade deals with the UK, but as ever the devil is in the detail.  The first observation is that two or three of the countries concerned are not in a position to enter into bilaterals with the United Kingdom, as this would conflict with Germany and Ireland’s membership of the EU and possibly (although I can’t quite be sure) Switzerland’s bilateral treaties with the EU.

All the vaunting of the 24 countries outside the EEA and EU Customs Area had me wondering: how many countries want trade deals in order to get British goods cheaper, and how many just want to sell more of their goods to the UK?

So I had a nosey at HMRC’s Overseas Trade statistics.  Of the 27, only ten are in the top 25 exporters or importers (value imported to the UK over £3.052billion (Vietnam) and exported from the UK over £2.152 billion (Russia) in the year to date (up to October)).

The figures are in millions of pounds, and the ten countries in the top 25 exporters and importers are marked in bold. Note that the remaining top 25 importers, Denmark, Czech Republic, South Africa and Vietnam, are all net importers to the UK, in the first case probably because of Lego, and the remaining top 25 export markets, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates are all net importers from the UK.

Country Exports Imports Net exports Import/export ratio
AUSTRALIA 3,127 4,929 -1,802 158%
BELGIUM 9,688 18,927 -9,239 195%
CANADA 3,723 9,100 -5,377 244%
CHINA 11,088 31,859 -20,771 287%
FRANCE 15,692 20,254 -4,562 129%
GERMANY 26,560 52,904 -26,344 199%
HONG KONG 5,458 8,469 -3,011 155%
INDIA 2,693 5,142 -2,449 191%
IRISH REPUBLIC 13,662 10,451 3,211 76%
ITALY 7,999 14,032 -6,032 175%
JAPAN 3,862 8,234 -4,372 213%
NETHERLANDS 15,723 28,174 -12,450 179%
NORWAY 2,624 10,274 -7,650 392%
POLAND 3,446 7,438 -3,992 216%
RUSSIA 2,153 3,344 -1,192 155%
SOUTH KOREA 3,318 3,829 -511 115%
SPAIN 7,618 13,411 -5,793 176%
SWEDEN 3,791 5,054 -1,263 133%
SWITZERLAND 7,819 21,173 -13,354 271%
TURKEY 3,327 7,952 -4,625 239%
UNITED STATES 37,067 33,037 4,030 89%

As can be seen from the table, of the ten only two are net importers of British goods – the United States and Ireland.  Only with the United States and South Korea would we negotiate as equals, as our exports and imports are within 15% of each other (and even then, the USA is a very big country with a lot more clout than us!)

With Ireland we must face the EU, who know exactly how much we want European goods (the answer is… a lot), and where a significant trade surplus with one country is set against significant trade deficits with other EU countries and strong underlying demand for quality and premium European brands with perceived inadequate alternatives.  Perhaps including Norway Spruce.

With countries such as China, where imports are nearly three times as much as exports, the other country will have by far the upper hand, because they are selling so many goods to us and can walk away without damage if they don’t get what they want.  It is hard to imagine their wishing to have a trade deal to increase the amount of British goods sold in their countries (and note my previous comments about the cost of transporting goods across the globe potentially making our exports less competitive than regional producers without free trade deals) rather than to flood the United Kingdom with goods at prices set to compete producers in the UK out of business – Tata all over again, pretty much.

I will see if I can obtain end of year figures for all 27 relevant countries and all EU/EEA countries, but I doubt they will be available until at least late February.