Russian goods flooded UK at unprecedented rates in month before war

The UK spent nearly double its previous high on Russian goods in January.

11 March 2022

The UK bought more from Russia than at any point in history in January, as imports doubled in the month before the country started a war.

In an unprecedented figure, imports from the country hit more than £2.6 billion, more than twice the less than £1.3 billion in December, according to the Office for National Statistics.

It outstrips the previous high in Russian imports since records began in 1997, which was set at a little under £1.4 billion in December 2020.

It came as troops were already building up on the Russian border with Ukraine. They would not launch the attack on Ukraine until late February.

UK and western imports from Russia are expected to have taken a serious knock following the invasion, as countries lined up to impose sanctions on the country.

“Trade figures with Russia could be startling in February and then March as the true extent of sanctions imposed and strengthened by the UK and its western allies kick in, most noticeably the phasing out of oil and oil products announced this week,” said Jack Sirett head of dealing at financial services firm Ebury.

“However, in January over £2.6 billion worth of goods were imported from Russia, the highest figure on record, with fuels the main commodity imported to the UK.”

Yael Selfin, chief economist at KPMG UK, said: “The new sanctions and the uncertainty around the supply of some key commodities will be felt particularly in Europe, where some of the strongest trade links with Russia remain.

“Prior to the escalation, companies in the UK were reporting some easing in supply chain constraints, although they were still rising in the eurozone.

“The latest developments are likely to reverse some of these gains.”

Overall imports of goods rose by £4.7 billion – 11% – in January, purely because of a rise in imports from the EU, the ONS said.

Exports decreased by £2.5 billion, a 8.7% drop, due again to the impact of trade with the EU.

However the ONS cautioned against reading too much into these data. HM Revenue and Customs has changed the way it collects figures on imports and exports with the EU.

It means the figures are not directly comparable with earlier months.

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