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£0.5 trillion of trade passes through UK ports

The ports industry is generally measured through its physical throughput of tonnages, containers or trailers handled. However, while such measurement informs an analysis of market share and provides vital evidence to assist in port planning, design and operations, it does not necessarily convey the role that ports play in the wider economy.  This requires measurement of cargo value and in September MDST published its analysis of the value of trade passing through UK ports.  This shows that the estimated total value of goods passing through UK ports was £511 billion in 2014, compared to GDP for the UK of £1.75 trillion.  

The results from the study were based on available data for trade, VAT returns and port throughput and these data sources were used to estimate the value of goods passing through the major UK ports. As about half of the value of these goods relate to trade with the EU, and therefore do not pass through Customs, this involved some estimation but the results reflect the control totals that are available from the Office for National Statistics and the Department for Transport.

In 2014, UK GDP was measured by the Office for National Statistics at £1.75 trillion, of which 78% were in services, leaving the GDP for goods produced (including construction) at just £385 billion. This means that the total value of goods passing through UK ports, at around £511 billion, actually exceeds the total value added in the UK in the form of goods, with exports of goods at around £227 billion. These figures are not, of course, entirely comparable. The value of exports will include the value of imported components and raw materials while GDP is a net figure reflecting value added. Nevertheless, it is evident that the UK ports industry plays a highly strategic role in the overall economy and this role is only going to increase in importance given the need to extend and enhance trading links with the rest of the world following the Brexit vote.

Highlights from the work are:

  • The top 5 export ports in the UK are Southampton, Dover, Felixstowe, Grimsby & Immingham and Liverpool – and accounted for 63% of the value of goods exported through all the major ports in 2014;
  • The leading export port was Southampton which handled exports to the value of £40 billion;
  • The top 5 import ports – Felixstowe, Grimsby & Immingham, Dover, London and  Southampton - accounted for an estimated 66% of the value of goods imported through all the major ports in 2014;
  • The leading import port was Felixstowe, which handled imports to the value of £45 billion;
  • Felixstowe handled the highest value of trade overall at £75 billion followed by Southampton at £71 billion and Dover at £69 billion.
  • If Heathrow Airport was a port, it would be ranked 4th in terms of the value of its trade at £64 billion.