The United Kingdom imported US$690.6 billion worth of goods from around the globe in 2021.
That dollar amount reflects a 7.8% increase since 2017 and an 8.9% uptick from 2020 to 2021.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2021, the British pound appreciated by 6.4% against the US dollar since 2017 and increased by the same 6.4% from 2021 to 2021. The UK’s stronger local currency makes its imports paid for in weaker US dollars relatively less expensive when converted starting from the British pound.
Gold, computers, petroleum gas and cars are among the most valuable products imported into the United Kingdom during 2021.
UK’s imports represent 3.9% of total global imports which totaled an estimated $17.706 trillion one year earlier during 2020.
From a continental perspective, over half (54.5%) of United Kingdom’s total imports by value in 2021 were purchased from fellow European countries (compared to 50.9% from European Union members). Trade partners in Asia supplied 28.5% of import purchases by the United Kingdom while 12% originated from North America.
Smaller percentages came from Africa (3%), Latin America (1.3%) including the Caribbean but excluding Mexico, then Oceania (0.7%) led by Australia and New Zealand.
Given the United Kingdom’s population of 67.3 million people, its total $690.6 billion in 2021 imports translates to roughly $10,300 in yearly product demand from every person living in the United Kingdom. That average metric is higher than the $9,400 per capita one year earlier.
The following product groups represent the highest dollar value in the United Kingdom’s import purchases during 2021 at the two-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level. Also shown is the percentage share each product category represents in terms of overall imports into the United Kingdom.
- Gems, precious metals: US$82.6 billion (12% of total imports)
- Machinery including computers: $79.2 billion (11.5%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $69.9 billion (10.1%)
- Vehicles: $63.7 billion (9.2%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $60.9 billion (8.8%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $26.9 billion (3.9%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $21 billion (3%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $18.5 billion (2.7%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting , signs, prefab buildings: $14.2 billion (2%)
- Other chemical goods: $13.1 billion (1.9%)
The United Kingdom’s top 10 imports accounted for roughly two-thirds (65.2%) of the overall value of its product purchases from all countries.
The mineral fuels including oil category posted the greatest increase from 2020 to 2021, up by 107.6%.
In second place were miscellaneous chemical goods (up 107.6%), furniture, bedding, lighting, signs and prefabricated buildings (up 34.2%) then plastics as materials plus items made from plastic (up 13.5%).
Leading the decliners was the precious metals category via its -23.8% decline year over year, weighed down by lower spending on imported gold.
Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more detailed view of imported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the adjacent virtual folder tabs.
UK importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of precious metals and gems during 2021.
- Gold (unwrought): US$53.9 billion (down -39% from 2020)
- Platinum (unwrought): $11.9 billion (up 26.2%)
- Silver (unwrought): $6.2 billion (up 125.9%)
- Precious metal waste, scrap: $5.6 billion (up 39.8%)
- Jewelry: $2.7 billion (up 0.9%)
- Diamonds (unmounted/unset): $1.6 billion (up 154.9%)
- Imitation jewelry: $301.7 million (up 15.2%)
- Precious/semi-precious stones (unstrung): $209.3 million (up 112.3%)
- Natural pearl/precious stone items: $53 million (up 57.5%)
- Coins: $50.5 million (up 380.9%)
Among these import subcategories, British purchases of coins (up 380.9%), unmounted and unset diamonds (up 154.9%) then silver (up 125.9%) grew at the fastest pace from 2020 to 2021.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported precious metals and gems among UK businesses and consumers.
In 2021, UK importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of machinery including computers.
- Computers, optical readers: US$16.2 billion (up 0.1% from 2020)
- Turbo-jets: $15.1 billion (up 8.5%)
- Taps, valves, similar appliances: $3.3 billion (up 17%)
- Piston engine parts: $3 billion (up 2.8%)
- Centrifuges, filters and purifiers: $2.6 billion (up 22.9%)
- Machinery parts: $2.3 billion (up 32%)
- Printing machinery: $2.3 billion (up 0.1%)
- Refrigerators, freezers: $2.3 billion (up 22.6%)
- Air or vacuum pumps: $2.2 billion (up 19.8%)
- Liquid pumps and elevators: $2 billion (down -1.7%)
Among these import subcategories, British purchases of machinery parts (up 32%), centrifuges, filters and purifiers (up 22.9%) then refrigerators and freezers (up 22.6%) grew at the fastest pace from 2020 to 2021.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported machinery among UK businesses and consumers.
In 2021, UK importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of mineral fuels including oil.
- Petroleum gases: US$26.5 billion (up 340.3% from 2020)
- Crude oil: $23.9 billion (up 53%)
- Processed petroleum oils: $13.4 billion (up 36.3%)
- Electrical energy: $4 billion (up 318.6%)
- Coal, solid fuels made from coal: $655.2 million (up 57.1%)
- Coke, semi-coke: $583.3 million (up 123%)
- Petroleum oil residues: $400.5 million (up 77.4%)
- Coal tar oils (high temperature distillation): $271.9 million (up 49%)
- Peat: $81.3 million (up 8.2%)
- Petroleum jelly, mineral waxes: $72.6 million (up 24.1%)
Among these import subcategories, British purchases of petroleum gases (up 340.3%), electrical energy (up 318.6%) then coke or semi-coke (up 123.0%) grew at the fastest pace from 2020 to 2021.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported mineral fuels among UK businesses and consumers.
In 2021, UK importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of vehicles.
- Cars: US$35.7 billion (up 2.9% from 2020)
- Automobile parts/accessories: $12.1 billion (up 4.9%)
- Trucks: $8.9 billion (up 52.2%)
- Tractors: $1.9 billion (up 4.5%)
- Trailers: $1.1 billion (up 42.8%)
- Automobile bodies: $773 million (up 30.2%)
- Motorcycles: $750.9 million (down -4.2%)
- Motorcycle parts/accessories: $564.5 million (up 10.7%)
- Bicycles, other non-motorized cycles: $515.5 million (down -2.8%)
- Armored vehicles, tanks: $480.2 million (2020 data unavailable)
Among these import subcategories, British purchases of trucks (up 52.2%), trailers (up 42.8%) then automobile bodies (up 30.2%) grew at the fastest pace from 2020 to 2021.
These amounts clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported vehicles among UK businesses and consumers.
See also United Kingdom’s Top 10 Exports, United Kingdom’s Top Trading Partners, UK’s Major Trade Balances with America, United Kingdom’s Top 10 Major Export Companies and United Kingdom’s Exported Services
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles. Accessed on March 13, 2022
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (Domestic Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on March 13, 2022
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on March 13, 2022
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on March 13, 2022
Imported Consumer Products, UK’s Top 100 Imported Consumer Products. Accessed on June 25, 2021
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