No. 23 – UK regions, the European Union and manufacturing exports 7 Analysis • It is clear that considering the differential trade relationships between the UK’s regions and nations and the EU is relevant to understanding the implications of Brexit for the UK economy, given that the geographical differences in this regard are fairly substantial. • The Southern English regions and the North West export most goods in absolute terms to the EU, but paradoxically those regions that tend to export fewer goods, such as the North East, South West and Northern Ireland, are more reliant on the EU insofar as EU countries are the destination of a greater proportion of their goods exports. • The North East overwhelmingly exports chemicals and vehicles to the EU. Exports from the South West and West Midlands are also focused upon vehicles, and exports from the North West are focused upon chemicals. The chemical sector includes pharmaceuticals and goods such as pesticides and fertilisers, paints and plastics. That these are among the sectors with the highest tariffs for imports into the EU means these regions will be very negatively affected, other things being equal, were imports from the UK to be treated in line with those from other non-EU countries in the event of Brexit. • It is also worth reiterating here the North East’s goods trade surplus with the EU. For most Southern English regions, imports from the EU dwarf exports. But the Northern regions and the devolved nations have a more balanced trade relationship with the EU. • Of course, this does not mean that the arguments made by many in favour of Brexit, that is, that a more liberal regulatory environment would over the long term improve the productivity of the UK economy (and therefore, other things being equal, its trade performance), can be discounted. • It should also be noted that goods trade is not a perfect proxy for the degree of economic integration between UK regions and the EU, for two main reasons. Firstly, many regional firms will operate within global production networks involving both EU and non-EU firms. Secondly, an understanding of regional differences in services trade with the EU would be necessary to better understand trade relationships in this regard – yet data on services exports by region are not collected. • We know that the UK has a services trade surplus of almost £90 billion, including a surplus on services trade with the EU of over £35 billion. If services trade were to become more restrictive in the event of Brexit, the UK’s overall trade balance could further deteriorate, at least in the short term, because, unlike trade in goods, a lower volume of services exports to the EU would heavily outweigh the reduction in services imports. • Given the concentration of high-value (and more tradeable) services such as financial services, and business and legal services, in London and the South East, we should be careful not to assume from data on trade in goods alone that these regions would be relatively unaffected by any restrictions on trade with the EU.
No. 23 – UK regions, the European Union and manufacturing exports 8 Conclusion It is regrettable that the regional dimension of the UK/EU relationship has received relatively little attention in the public debate around the implications of ‘Brexit’, and even more so that the data available on the trade relationships between UK regions and the EU is incomplete. The evidence on trade in goods examined here confirms that the notion of whether the UK will be ‘better off’ or ‘worse off’ as a result of voting to exit or remain within the EU is too simplistic, due to significant differences between the UK’s regions and nations in terms of their goods trade relationship with the rest of the EU. In particular, Northern Ireland (the UK’s poorest region), the North East (England’s poorest region) and the South West (Southern England’s poorest region) appear to be the most dependent on the ability of the UK to trade in goods with relatively few restrictions with other EU countries. Of course, the fact that these regions are already among the UK’s most disadvantaged suggests that the economic status quo does not work in their favour. However, it is highly uncertain that a greater imperative for the UK overall to develop trade relationships with the rest of the world, if trade with Europe becomes more restrictive, is a path to greater prosperity for these regions. Sources • The trade data in this Brief are from the HMRC Regional Trade Statistics series (the Q4 2015 update), which is available at https://www.uktradeinfo.com/ Statistics/RTS/Pages/default.aspx. Data on exports by sector has been partially recategorised to allow for comparison between regions. • The population data, used to calculate per capita results, are taken from the ONS annual population estimates series, which is available at https:// www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/ populationestimates. • Information on services trade is available in the ONS Pink Book, which is available at http://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/nationalaccounts/balanceofpayments/ compendium/unitedkingdombalanceofpaymentsthepinkbook/2015-10-30.