The UK’s trade with the USA

4 November 2016
What was claimed

The US is the largest economy in the world.

Our verdict

It’s the first or second largest, depending on how you measure it.

What was claimed

The US is the UK’s second largest trading partner.

Our verdict


“America is our most important ally, the most important country that we have to work with, both in terms of our prosperity, as our second largest trading partner, it’s the largest economy in the world, it’s vitally important to our security. So whoever is installed in the White House, we’re going to have to work with them.”

Sajid Javid, 3 November 2016

There are three claims here. One about the USA’s importance as a trading partner, one about the size of its economy, and one about its importance as a military and diplomatic ally.

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The USA is the UK’s second largest trading partner

It’s correct that the US is the UK’s second largest trading partner after the EU, if you combine together the value of imports and exports.

America is also the UK’s second largest export market. It accounted for 19% of the value of UK exports in 2016/17, second only to the EU as a whole, which bought 44% of UK exports.

It's also the second largest import market in 2016/17. 11% of the value of our imports came from the US, compared to 53% from the rest of the EU.

The USA is the first or second largest economy in the world...

...depending on how you measure it.

If you measure GDP in terms of the dollar value of the economy, the US is the largest economy in the world.

If you measure GDP in terms of what those dollars can buy you in that country - what’s called purchasing power parity (PPP) - then the US is the second largest, after China.

The US and the UK have a so-called ‘special relationship’

It’s often said that the UK and the USA have a ‘special relationship’ when it comes to foreign affairs, and statements from both governments often re-assert this. Chatham House, a think tank, has said that although the meaning and implications of the ‘special relationship’ are often debated in the UK, they are unquestioned in mainstream US politics.

The relationship between UK security and our relations with the US is a complex issue, and not something we can write about conclusively.

Update 25 July 2017

We've updated this piece with the latest figures for the 2016/17 financial year.

We've also corrected an error in the previous version, which stated that 17% of the UK's exports went to the US in 2015 - this should have read 20%.

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