UK construction equipment trade eases in Q3

By Paul Lyon and Leila Steed13 December 2021

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UK imports and exports of construction and earthmoving equipment have dropped for the third quarter of 2021, according to the latest market data and analysis from the Construction Equipment Association (CEA).

Figures for both types of equipment fell below the very high levels seen in Q2, which for imports, had reached “record” quarterly levels since trade has been monitored from 2013.

Despite the reduced levels of trade in Q3, overall trade this year remains significantly higher than 2020 levels which were impacted by the pandemic.

UK exports in the first three quarters of the year were £2.46 billion, 28% higher than the same period in 2020.

Imports have reached £1.67 billion in the same period, which is 77% higher than in the first three quarters of 2020.

Exports of equipment in Q3 were £809 million, 13% down on Q2 levels. An update on a tonnage shipped basis isn’t available for this report due to problems with customs data in this area.

On a £-value basis, exports overall are up this year on 2020 levels, as highlighted above, but the share of exports to the EU have seen a modest reduction.

While exports to the EU accounted for 50% of total exports last year, they have fallen to 47% in the first three quarters of the year. This is similar to 2019 levels.

Imports in Q3 were £531 million, representing a 17% reduction on Q2 levels. 

In the first three quarters of the year, imports have reached 319 k tonnes which is 79% higher than the same period last year, even higher than the 71% on a £ value basis identified above.

Despite these very significant increases in imports overall, reaching “record” levels, imports from the EU have shown a reduction this year.

The table below indicates that the EU share of total imports has fallen to 62% in the first three quarters of the year compared with 69% in 2020.

Table showing EU Share of UK trade

This reduced share of imports of equipment from the EU can probably be attributed as a post Brexit effect.

Overall, higher levels of imports this year are consistent with the latest statistics on UK sales of equipment, as reported by Systematics International from the construction equipment data exchange.

This identifies that unit sales this year in the first ten months are 53% higher than last year, which suffered from the impact of lockdown in the construction industry in the early part of last year.

The UK remained a net exporter of construction and earthmoving equipment in the first nine months of 2021, with exports (£2,465 million) 47% higher than imports (£1,678 million).

However, due to the surge in imports this year, this was a much smaller margin than usual. For example in 2020, exports were more than double the level of imports for the whole year.

The table above provides a summary of the EU share of total imports and exports of equipment for the last four years.

In both cases, this shows modest increases in the annual share for EU countries in earlier years, but as highlighted above, after peaking in 2020, they have returned to similar levels to 2019 so far this year.

Exports of Equipment by Country of Destination

In the first nine months of 2021, UK exports of equipment were shipped to over 170 different countries.

The table below shows rankings for the Top 20 countries based on weight of machines shipped (tonnes) since 2019.

However, for 2021, the country ranking has been switched to a £ value basis due to the problem with tonnage shipped data from customs highlighted above.

UK Exports of Equipment by Country of Destination UK Exports of Equipment by Country of Destination

During the first three quarters of 2021, the Top 20 countries accounted for over 80% of total exports in value terms.

The USA remained the top destination for UK exports in the first nine months of 2021.

Its share of total exports compared with 2020 levels has remained fairly stable at around 22%.

The top two EU destinations in the last two years have both seen their share of exports decline in the first three quarters of the year.

The combined share of exports to Germany and the Irish Republic has fallen from 15.5% of total exports last year to 13% so far this year.

From an EU market perspective, some of this was compensated for by Belgium and the Netherlands, with their share of exports increasing from just under 6% to over 8% in the first three quarters of 2021.

UK Imports of Equipment by Country of Origin

In the first three quarters of 2021, UK imports of construction and earthmoving equipment arrived from over 50 different countries.

The table below shows rankings for the Top 20 importing countries based on weight (tonnes) of machines since 2019.

The Top 20 countries accounted for close to 98% of total imports in both weight and value terms in the first nine months of the year.

Similar to previous years, Japan has remained as the leading source for UK imports in the first three quarters of the year.

Its share on both a £ value and tonnage shipped basis has increased from between 15% - 16% last year to 17%-18% in 2021. Germany remains as the second highest source of imports of equipment into the UK, and between them Japan and Germany account for just over a third of total imports.

Imports from China have continued to increase their share of total imports and account for over 8% so far this year on a tonnage shipped basis, leaving China ranked as the 5th highest source of imports so far in 2021.

UK Imports of Equipment by Country of Origin UK Imports of Equipment by Country of Origin
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