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UK's trade deficit with EU widens to a record

[LONDON] Britain's goods-trade gap with the European Union widened to a record, with exports in the last three months falling the lowest in more than six years.

Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed a deficit of 8.1 billion pounds (S$15.9 billion) in January and 23 billion pounds over the past three months. Both figures are the highest since the data began in 1998. Exports to the 28-nation bloc in the quarter through January declined to 32.7 billion pounds, the least since 2009.

With the UK holding a referendum on EU membership in three months, every aspect of the economies' relationship is being fought over by campaigners. Those who want to leave - a so-called "Brexit" - say the UK should focus on new markets, while those in favor of remaining argue Britain can benefit from the EU's clout in global trade.

The widening in the trade gap with the EU in January was largely due to an increase in imports. The bloc remains Britain's biggest trading partner, accounting for almost 50 per cent of exports.

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The UK's total goods trade deficit was at 10.3 billion pounds in January, matching economists' median estimate. There was a surplus on services, leaving the overall goods and services gap at 3.5 billion pounds.

In a separate report, the ONS said construction output fell 0.2 per cent in January from December and was down 0.8 per cent year on year. New housing fell in January, led by the biggest decline in public homebuilding in three years.

Construction in the fourth quarter was revised to a 0.3 per cent gain rather than the previously estimated 0.4 per cent drop. As it only accounts for 6 per cent of the economy, the revision has no impact on GDP to one decimal place.

BLOOMBERG

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