New research has found that Heathrow is the UK’s biggest port with over double the trade value of the UK’s second-largest port by value, Southampton. In 2019, the total value of trade passing through Heathrow to and from destinations outside the EU and Switzerland was £140.9 billion, up from £109.5 billion in 2018. UK exports passing through Heathrow were worth £66.7 billion, equal to 40% of UK goods exports outside the EU and Switzerland. Heathrow’s position as the UK’s largest hub airport means it is able to combine direct passengers with transfer passengers, along with international cargo – which make its global network of trade routes viable to fly. As such, 95% of all trade that passes through Heathrow is cargo carried in the belly-hold of passenger planes.
The Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr), carried out the research on behalf of Heathrow Airport.
The research also looks into the export climate of the UK, creating the quarterly Export Climate Index (ECI). The latest index results show that the situation for exporters is currently very weak, driven in part by political tensions in the UK’s trading partners such as France. The ECI stood at -0.51 in Q4 2019, well below the -0.18 measured in Q3. The index was last lower than this is Q1 2013.[ii]
Other key results of the research are:
- Heathrow moves £183 million of exports from the UK every day to non-EU/Switzerland markets around the world.
- The value of Heathrow exports has been rapidly increasing to stand at £5.7 billion per month on average in the second half of 2019.
- The top destination for exports from the UK passing through Heathrow is the United States. In 2019, the UK exported goods worth £22 billion to the US through Heathrow, which is important as the government looks to forge new trading relationships.
- Cebr estimates that the value of exports to the EU passing through Heathrow fell in 2019, to £6.8 billion down from £7.8 billion in 2018. This makes the EU the third-most important destination by value of exports passing through Heathrow.
- After precious stones, metals and pearls, mechanical appliances (mostly made up of turbojets, turbo propellers and other gas turbines) is the most exported type of good traded through Heathrow. Data shows that in 2019, Heathrow exports of mechanical appliances reached a value of £13.1 billion, while imports were worth £11.0 billion.
- The UK Export Climate Index stood at -0.51 in Q4 2019, well below the -0.18 measured in Q3. The index was last lower than this is Q1 2013.
- The biggest upward forces on the index in the latest quarter were growth in the number of Heathrow flights within the airport’s capacity constraints (with 2% annual growth in Q4 after negative annual growth in Q3 [iii]) and the Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for new export orders – demonstrating the importance of trade connections and confidence in manufacturing and services sectors. However, these were far outweighed by negative movements in all other indicators. The largest downward movement came from export expectations.
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[i] Figure is for goods trade outside EU and Switzerland
[ii] The Export Climate Index is a measure combining eight key indicators of the UK export climate. As exports are a crucial component of GDP, rising exports have a positive impact on economic growth. Monitoring the health of the UK export climate gives an important opportunity to increase understanding and awareness of the factors which are affecting UK exporters, and how they compare to historic figures.
[iii] Source: Civil Aviation Authority