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Exports boost narrows trade deficit
The UK's trade deficit narrowed in March as buoyant exports more than offset a rise in imported goods
Exporters were given cause for optimism after new figures showed an improvement in the UK's trade deficit in March.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the value of exports increased by 3.5% on the previous month, helping the deficit on trade in goods and services narrow to £3.1 billion from £3.4 billion a month earlier.
This was despite a 2.6% increase in the value of imports and a widening of the deficit with the European Union in the quarter, mainly on trade with Germany and the Netherlands.
Markit economist Chris Williamson said the trade data adds to signs that the manufacturing sector is finding its feet again, helped by the pound remaining 25% below its pre-crisis peak.
He added: "Official data and surveys paint an encouraging picture of the UK gaining market share in overseas markets, suggesting the economy is showing signs of rebalancing away from domestic consumption to export-led growth."
The ONS said on Thursday that manufacturing output rose for a second month in a row in March, having slumped during January's bad weather. The UK's deficit on trade in goods was £9.1 billion, broadly in line with February's figure.
Total exports increased by £1.2 billion to £25.7 billion and total imports rose by £1.1 billion to £34.8 billion, the ONS added. While the EU deficit widened, there were signs of encouragement in relation to the UK's trade performance with countries outside the eurozone.
The CBI's head of exports policy Jim Bligh said: "These encouraging figures show that businesses are stepping up efforts to explore new markets outside the EU.
"However, monthly trade figures are only part of the picture, which reveals the underlying trend for exports growth is flat. With total exports to the fast-growing BRIC economies still only making up 7% of the UK's total, the same as the amount we export to France, we still have a long way to go before exports are really driving economic recovery."
A Department for Business spokeswoman said: "Trade plays a key role in getting the UK back on the path to growth and is a central priority for our G8 presidency this year. The Government is committed to becoming a more export-orientated economy, rebalancing the economy away from debt-fuelled spending to achieve long-term sustainable growth."
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