Get help with using our data

This section is Guidance

Find out about the data we publish, our policies and methodologies, and resources to help you make best use of our data.

About our data

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) collects a wide range of data on the UK's international trade in goods.

We publish this data as two National Statistics series:

Data for EU and non-EU trade is published at the same time each month.

The published data includes import and export values at detailed product and country level.

You can also explore and customise detailed trade data - dating from 1996 to the latest monthly release - by using the interactive data tables on this website.

You can also access a range of prepared data tables. Learn how to create custom tables.

If you need a very large amount of data, you can download bulk datasets to explore using your own analytical or database software.

Check our release calendar to find out when data is expected to be published, and register for email alerts.

Our data sources

Overseas trade statistics are compiled monthly, quarterly and annually using transaction information collected by HMRC; this includes commodity codes to classify goods being traded. Learn more about how goods are classified.

EU trade

HMRC collects data on the UK's trade in goods with EU member states when businesses submit details in their VAT Returns.

Businesses that conduct larger amounts of trade are legally required to report using the Intrastat monthly survey; this allows HMRC to collect more detailed data about their trading activity.

Non-EU trade

Businesses that move goods to or from the UK from non-EU countries must complete a Customs declaration. HMRC uses the details from these declarations to compile data on UK trade with non-EU countries.

Regional trade

Regional trade data is derived from the Overseas Trade Statistics (OTS). It provides a breakdown of imports and exports by regions of the UK, to other countries.

Regional Trade Statistics (RTS) data is compiled by merging trade data collected by HMRC with employment data from the Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR). A business’ trade is allocated to a region based on the proportion of its employees employed in that region.

Regional data is released quarterly, and available by partner country and aggregated product. The RTS uses the Standard International Trade Classification (SITC) which classifies goods more broadly, which is not as detailed as the Overseas Trade Statistics.

Regional trade data is not available for some non-EU countries. This is to ensure business confidentiality.

Estimates

EU trade data includes a number of trade estimates or adjustments. This can include:

Regional trade statistics do not include these estimates. They also exclude trade in non-monetary gold.

Key terms and definitions

Here is a glossary of terms used in our trade data, as well as information you should know before using the data.

Commodity code

Commodity codes are numbers that help you to identify and define the type of goods.

To learn more about commodity codes, read how goods are classified.

Quantity

Generally, goods will be declared with a weight (net mass), which will be in kilograms (kg).

Supplementary units

Commodity codes may also have a second quantity, known as supplementary units.

The supplementary unit can refer to square metres, litres, grams or another unit of measure. It is important to be aware of this when viewing data for high-level commodity groups.

Find details of the codes used for supplementary units in the UK Trade Tariff tool (opens in a new tab).

Country of dispatch or destination

For goods entering the UK, country data is based on the country of dispatch. This means the country from which the goods were exported to come to the UK. This may be different from the:

  • country of origin
  • country of manufacture
  • last country from which the goods were shipped to the UK

For goods leaving the UK, country data is based on the country of destination. This means the final country to which the goods are being exported.

Period

Overseas trade data is collected and published monthly.

You can customise the data tables on our website to show any combination of months in a calendar year.

You can find quarterly and annual data in our prepared datasets.

Port

Port data is only available for UK trade with non-EU countries.

Before January 2007, 'port' referred to the seaport or airport at which the goods entered or left the UK. This was identified from the 'Place of Loading/Unloading' section in the customs declaration.

From January 2007, changes to EU legislation meant this 'port' data was no longer collected.

For statistical purposes, information on 'place of clearance' is published to indicate the 'port' data. In many cases, the port will be the same as the place of clearance.

Legislative changes in May 2016 means that fully comprehensive port data for non-EU trade is no longer possible. This is due to changes in legislation surrounding declaration requirements when goods are moving into or out of a customs warehouse.

Port data will still be available for businesses that submit either:

  • full customs declarations for entry into customs warehouses
  • voluntary supply ‘place of clearance’ on ex-warehouse supplementary declarations

Place of clearance

'Place of clearance' is where the goods are available for customs clearance processes.

This will normally be the port at which goods entered or left the UK. However, for a small number of items, the place of clearance will be a different port or an approved inland location. For example, goods may enter the UK at one airport but transit to another airport for clearance.

Trade statistics methodology

You can learn about the methods we use to produce the overseas and regional trade statistics in our methodology papers (opens in new tab).


Changes to methodology

From May 2016, we changed the method we use to compile our non-EU trade in goods statistics from the 'general trade' to the 'special trade' system.

This change was due to legislation affecting how goods are declared to Customs.

General trade records the physical movement of goods to and from the UK. Whereas, special trade excludes those goods placed in customs warehouses (where duty and VAT have not yet been paid). So special trade can be thought of as goods that are in ‘free circulation’.


For details about the differences between general and special trade, read our methodology paper for overseas trade statistics (opens in new tab).

Suppressed data

While we aim to publish as much detailed trade data as possible, we need to withhold some data to protect sensitive national and business interests.
For more details about suppressed data, read our policy on suppressions (PDF: 162KB).

Current suppressions to commodity codes (PDF: 554KB)

Trader details

Where possible, we make available details on businesses that import or export goods with non-EU countries.

Learn more about the trader details you can access.

Non-monetary gold

From January 2005 onwards, non-monetary gold is included in Overseas Trade Statistics. This methodology change was introduced in 2014.

To find out how this affects past UK trade data, read our EU summary (PDF: 127KB) and non-EU summary (PDF: 65KB).

Revisions to data

Published data is provisional for up to 18 months after it is published. The data can be revised and corrected during this time. This can be because:

  • businesses did not report their EU trade data on time
  • goods were wrongly classified 
  • goods were valued incorrectly or provisionally

Overseas trade data is subject to routine monthly updates and non-routine ('unscheduled') corrections to data in line with the Code of Practice for Statistics (opens in new tab).

For more details about types of revisions and how we handle them, read our revisions policy (opens in a new tab).

Announcements of corrections to data

How we maintain quality in trade data

We carry out extensive checks on our trade data before and after it is published. Find out about:

  • the UK and international quality standards we follow
  • differences with trade statistics of other countries
  • how to challenge published data

Quality standards

We produce our overseas trade in goods statistics in line with:

Asymmetries in trade data

Asymmetries are differences between a country's published trade statistics and those of its trading partners

In theory, the value of the UK's exports to one country should broadly match the value of UK imports reported by the other country.  However, there are a number of reasons why they do not match.

Download an overview of asymmetries (PDF: 197KB).

You can find reports on trade asymmetries on GOV.UK (opens in new tab).

How to challenge published data

If you think the published trade data is incorrect, you can contact HMRC Trade Statistics to challenge the data.

Email uktradeinfo@hmrc.gov.uk and include the following details in your message:

  • trade period
  • trade flow (import. export, arrivals or dispatches)
  • the full details of the commodity
  • the specific field value you want to query
  • possible alternative data (if you have this)
  • why you believe the data is incorrect

If we find the published data is incorrect, we will publish the revised data for all users in line with our policy on revisions to data and the Code of Practice for Statistics.

Other trade data

You can access international trade data from a number of publicly available official sources. 

These include:

You can also access UK trade data from commercial data retailers.