21st March 2023 – Germany has regained its status as the UK’s main import partner after heavy competition from China saw it lose its crown in 2021, according to new analysis from global financial services firm Ebury.
Germany has long been the UK’s most important import partner thanks to its close geographic connections and strong manufacturing sector – particularly in cars. However, the surge in Chinese production across tech, telecoms and textiles has seen the country emerge as a global export powerhouse.
This culminated in China becoming the UK’s dominant import partner in 2021 with goods imports totalling £64.2 billion compared to £57.2 billion from Germany.
The reverse marked several years of imports from Germany stagnating after reaching a peak in 2018 (£68.4 billion) before three consecutive years of declines. 2021 marked a small increase but was still over £10 billion lower than 2018. In contrast, imports from China continued to grow with a rapid increase of £8.9 billion in 2021 enough to see it overtake Germany.
However, in 2022 imports from Germany increased by 24% to reach £70.9 billion and edge back past China where total imports were £70.4 billion – a 10% rise. The main import from Germany – cars – has risen by 14% over the past five years with a noticeable spike in 2022.
Jack Sirett, Partner at Ebury, said: “Global trade patterns were seriously disrupted through the pandemic but even in the years in the run up to the outbreak of COVID-19 goods imports China were growing rapidly while volumes from Germany appeared to have stalled.
“This was brought to a head in 2021 when Chinese imports – fuelled by demand for textiles used for face masks and PPE – soared past Germany to see China become the UK’s main import partner.
“While many may have assumed that China would consolidate this status, the two nation’s differing responses to life after the pandemic have now seen Germany reclaim its crown. China’s Zero-Covid strategy disrupted manufacturing and exports, while Germany bounced back strongly as supply chains normalised in 2022.
“Improvements in the UK’s trading relationship with the EU, particularly following the agreement of the Windsor Framework, mean that Germany will remain a vitally important trading partner moving forward.
“Given China has now abandoned its Zero-Covid plans, 2023 looks set to be an intriguing battle for the top spot!”