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A rise in oil prices and higher imports contributed to a widening of the UK’s goods trade deficit in December. The gap between exports and imports rose to £13.6bn, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said, which was higher than analysts’ forecasts. Separate ONS data showed industrial output experienced its biggest fall since 2012, largely due to the shutdown of the Forties North Sea pipeline.

Industrial output fell by 1.3% in December from the month before.

However, the ONS said UK’s manufacturing sector, which is part of overall industrial output, saw output rise by 0.3% on the month, marking the eighth consecutive month of growth in the sector – the longest run in almost 30 years. Further ONS data showed construction output also rose, by 1.6%, in December.

The total trade deficit – which covers goods and services – widened by £1.2bn to £4.9bn between November and December. Senior ONS statistician Ole Black said: “The headline trade deficit widened in the fourth quarter with the impact of increased oil imports accentuated by rising crude prices.”

“Construction was broadly flat across 2017, thanks to a strong December. However, house building and infrastructure were the only bright spots with all other areas of the industry falling back throughout the year.”

Trade contribution ‘limited’
Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: “The sharp deterioration in the UK’s net trade position in December was disappointing and means that trade is likely to have been a drag on UK growth in the final quarter of the year.” The BCC said people were continuing to buy imports despite the post-Brexit fall in the value of the pound, which has made goods bought in from abroad more expensive.



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