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Monday, 21 May, 2001, 09:31 GMT 10:31 UK
UK trade deficit hits record high
A lorry passes a border crossing
Consumer goods imports have been particularly strong
The UK's global trade in goods recorded a deficit of 7.7bn in the first quarter of this year - the biggest trade gap since records began - official figures showed.

The figures for January-March revealed strong domestic demand for imported consumer goods, particularly cars.

The Office for National Statistics also said the UK's deficit in trade with non-EU countries rose to a greater than expected 2.66bn in April.

This compared with a revised 2.64bn in March and economist expectations of a 2.5bn April deficit in non-EU trade.

Analysts said the figures were slightly surprising but in keeping with recent trends.

They said they expected the trend of a widening deficit to continue in the next few months because of weaker exports, particularly to the United States, where economic growth has slowed.

Weak US, strong pound

The Office for National Statistics said the UK's global trade in goods in March recorded a deficit of 2.88bn compared with a revised 2.29bn in February.

Total goods exports were 4% lower at 16.1bn while imports dropped 0.5% to 19bn.

Exports to non-EU countries were down 8%, reflecting the US economic slowdown.

Exports to the EU were 1.5% lower, partly because the strengthening of the pound against the euro has been making UK goods more expensive - and so less attractive - for EU customers.

In trade with non-EU countries in April, the value of exports and imports were both 0.5% higher.

Financial markets showed little reaction to the data. The pound was steady against the dollar and the euro while the FTSE 100 index of leading shares remained modestly higher.

The UK last recorded an overall annual trade surplus in 1997, helped by a strong contribution from the dominant services sector.

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