World Economy

Bling and books: What the UK is exporting

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U.K. exports to China via London's Heathrow Airport more than doubled in the year to July, emphasizing the importance of the world's second-biggest economy in global trade, despite its slowdown.

Over £7 billion ($10.6 billion) worth of British exports traveled to China via Heathrow — the U.K.'s hub airport — between August 2014 and July 2015, according to U.K. Customs data. This represented a 117 percent increase on the previous 12 months and accounted for over 15 percent of all U.K. exports via Heathrow by value.

Overall, the value of U.K. exports via Heathrow increased 9.7 percent over the 12-month period.


Top 5 UK export destinations via Heathrow

  • US: £14 billion
  • China: £7.6 billion
  • Hong Kong: £4.5 billion
  • United Arab Emirates: £4 billion
  • India: £1.9 billion

The data will come as good news for the U.K. government during its "Export Week," aimed at encouraging U.K. businesses to start exporting. It also highlights progress in the Anglo-Chinese business relationship, which has been heavily pushed by the Sinophile Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.

According to the report, if the value of Britain's export to China via Heathrow continues to grow at its current rate, China will overtake the U.S. as the airport's biggest destination for U.K. exports within two years.

This is despite official data on Sunday showing a continued weakening in China's trade figures. China's exports fell 6.9 percent in October on the year before, while imports slipped 18.8 percent, according to its General Administration of Customs.

Top 5 UK exports via Heathrow

  • Precious metals: £26 billion
  • Aircraft turbojets: £3.3 billion
  • Jewelry: £3 billion
  • Medicaments: £2.8 billion
  • Paintings and drawings: £2.4 billion

World health crises saw U.K. exports of vaccines jump in the year to July 2015 via Heathrow. However, precious metals and aircraft turbojets were the most valuable exports traveling through the airport, due to the U.K.'s reputation for high-quality manufacturing and engineering, the report said.

Fresh salmon was the U.K.'s no. 1 export via Heathrow by weight, with 46,000 tons exported in the 12 months to July — the same weight as 230 blue whales, according to the report. Books and brochures were the second-largest export, with over 20,000 tonnes exported — equivalent to around 1,600 double-decker buses.

The U.K. government aims to export £1 trillion's worth of goods and services annually by 2020 as part of its economic recovery drive.

In the first nine months of 2015, U.K. exports amounted to £41.8 billion, with imports worth £47.0 billion, according to official data from HM Revenue and Customs.


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— By CNBC's Katy Barnato. Follow her on Twitter @KatyBarnato.