Lands of opportunity?

British furnishings exports outside Europe surpassed a value of £1bn during 2019, while EU figures remained fairly static.

Without dwelling on more Brexit opinion, the topic could’ve played a crucial part in the most recent figures relating to the value of trade within the furnishings marketplace, especially when considering British exports.

On broad terms, imports into the industry far outweighed the value of exports, although both sides of the trade fence did report annual growth.

Taking a closer look at Government figures*, the total value of furnishing imports during 2019 stood at £9.2bn – representing an increase of 6.9% from 2018’s value of £8.6bn. British exports also saw an uplift by 9% from £2.2bn to £2.4bn.

Starting with the latter, exports to EU countries valued £1.375bn, slightly down by 2% compared to £1.346bn. It would be fair to say that EU exports were fairly static during 2019. On the flipside, exports outside Europe surpassed the £1bn threshold to £1.1bn, increasing 22% from £977m year-on-year. In value terms, that’s an uptick of around £123m.

In what has been largely described as a ‘turbulent’, ‘challenging’ and ‘uncertain’ year – heavily linked around Brexit – perhaps confidence outside the EU is growing. Since 2016 when the vote became official, the market – and not just the furnishings industry – has had to absorb blow after blow due to the lack of certainty surrounding the leave date.

With this in mind, there’s no surprise that Non-EU exports have closed the gap compared to EU exports. And now the Brexit leave date is official, perhaps 2020 will see a further shift as negotiations across the board continue with the possibility of greater opportunity said to be outside Europe in terms of better trade deals.

Or perhaps better deals are to be had with European neighbours now the dust is beginning to settle and some forms of confidence are beginning to bud. Time will tell.

Glancing over imports, it read a similar story. Imports from the EU valued at £3.831bn during 2019, more or less on par with 2018’s figure of £3.855bn. Imports from outside the EU surged with a growth rate of 12.5% to £5.4bn from £4.8bn. China accounted for £3.3bn of this figure and saw an increase of 13.7% from £2.9bn itself.

Even the dominance of China could be tested following the global outbreak of coronavirus – and if it prolongs deep into 2020, the values from across the world could be significantly impacted.

Shifting to a focus on country wide figures across all industries, 2019 was a ‘record-breaking’ year for UK exports.

According to figures published by the Office for National Statistics, the UK has now experienced 45 consecutive months of annual export growth on a rolling annual basis.

UK companies exported £689bn worth of goods and services across the globe – up by 5% on 2018, with exports to non-EU countries up by 13.6%.

Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss, said: “The UK is an exporting superpower and these new statistics show that UK companies are exporting record levels of goods and services.

“As a newly independent trading nation, we will strike new trade deals with key partners across the world, open up new markets and make it even easier for our businesses to meet global demand.”

Reverting back to the furnishings industry in particular, below is a table of the top 10 importers and export destinations in terms of values and how it performed against the previous year.

Top 10 Imports 2019 Top 10 Exports 2019
China – £3.3bn, up 13.7% USA – £435.2m, up 34.3%
Poland – £672.6m, up 7.1% Ireland – £389.3m, down -0.7%
Italy – £648.3m, up 0.2% France – £223.9m, up 4.8%
Germany – £632.7m, down -0.2% Germany – £197.1m, up 5.4%
USA – £491m, up 8% Netherlands – £125.1m, down -19%
Vietnam – £321.7m, up 14.4% Uae – £107.5m, up 37.4%
Netherlands – £312.3m, down -2.1% Italy – £55.5m, up 4.5%
Belgium – £297.1m, down -4% Spain – £55.1m, down -2.3%
France – £206.5m, up 3.3% Belgium – £47.7m, down -4.4%
Turkey – £189.3m, up 33.2% Poland – £43.9m, up 7%

Inside Furniture also took a closer look at five key product sectors within the furnishings industry, including mattresses, upholstery, cabinet, flooring and lighting.

Mattresses

Total mattress imports into the UK valued £158.9m in 2019, up by 1.7% £156.1m in 2018. Non-EU imports rose 16.5% to £51.5m from £44.2m, while EU imports fell -4% to £107.4m from £111.9m.

On the export side, the value dipped -6.9% to £64.6m in 2019 compared to £69.4m in 2018. Both Non-EU and EU exports fell 1.2% to £23.6m from £23.9m and -9.8% to £41m from £45.5m respectively.

Imports from Poland and China led the way with values reaching £42.2m and £38.6m respectively, while Ireland remained the top destination of exports at £18.9m. Below are the top five values for mattresses.

Top 5 imports

  • Poland – £42.2m up from £38.4m
  • China – £38.6m up from £33.5m
  • Denmark – £21.9m down from £24.5m
  • Ireland – £13m down from £16.4m
  • Italy – £9.3m up from £9m

Top 5 exports

  • Ireland – £18.9m down from £20.3m
  • USA – £5.6m down from £5.7m
  • Belgium – £5.3m down from £6.9m
  • France – £4.9m down from £6.4m
  • China – £3.2m up from £2.8m

Upholstery

Upholstery imports registered an uptick of 4% during 2019 with a value of £2.6bn compared to £2.5bn. EU imports experienced a decline of -8.3% to £1.1bn from £1.2bn, while Non-EU imports surged 15.3% to £1.5bn from £1.3bn.

British exports saw growth on both fronts, valuing £778.3m in 2019, up by 24.7% from £623.8m. Export outside of Europe remained ahead at £465.5m, up by 36% from £340.7m, while exports into the EU reported growth of 10.4% to £312.8m from £283.1m.

China remained the biggest importer of upholstery related products at a value of close to £1bn, while the USA topped the export list at a value of £194.5m.

Top 5 imports

  • China – £983.8m up from £826.6m
  • Poland – £341.9m up from £325.2m
  • Germany – £223m up from £209.1m
  • USA – £206m up from £168.8m
  • Italy – £124.3m down from £147.4m

Top 5 exports

  • USA – £194.5m up from £132.5m
  • Ireland – £87.8m down from £93.1m
  • France – £53.1m up from £47m
  • Uae – £49m up from £20m
  • Germany – £43.6m up from £33.5m

Cabinet

Wooden based furniture in the cabinet sector saw imports rise 5.2% to £2bn in 2019 from £1.9bn in 2018. EU imports rose 3.9% to £695.3m from £669.2m, as did Non-EU imports, up by 7.6% to £1.4bn from £1.3bn.

Total exports increased marginally by 0.8% to £327.5m in 2019 compared to £324.9m in 2018. Non-EU exports rose 2.4% to £168.9m from £164.8m, while EU exports fell -0.9% to £158.6m from £160.1m.

China remained the market leader of importers into the UK at £599.6m, while Ireland topped the export list at a value of almost £80m.

Top 5 imports

  • China – £599.6m up from £535.4m
  • Vietnam – £252m up from £222.4m
  • Poland – £167.5m down from £168.9m
  • Italy – £124.7m up from £118.3m
  • Germany – £115m down from £115.8m

Top 5 exports

  • Ireland – £79.4m up from £78.1m
  • USA – £61.1m up from £58.6m
  • Germany – £20.9m up from £19.9m
  • France – £19m down from £19.4m
  • Netherlands – £10.7m down from £10.8m

Flooring/Carpets

Imports of floorcoverings climbed 1% to £897.1m in 2019 from £887.9m in 2018. Despite the overall growth, the main sector of imports being in the EU, fell -2.9% to £621.8m from £640.7m, while Non-EU imports rose 11.3% to £275.3m from £247.2m.

Total exports also increased by 1.5% to £277.1m in 2019 from £272.8m. EU exports rose 2.3% to £204.4m from £199.8m, while Non-EU exports fell -0.4% to £72.7m from £73m.

Belgium and the Netherlands maintained market leaders as importers, both over a value of £200m, while Ireland was the top destination for British flooring exports at just over £45m.

Top 5 imports

  • Belgium – £257.8m down from £273.8m
  • Netherlands – £227.1m down from £227.2m
  • Turkey – £95.3m up from £74.7m
  • India – £64.4m up from £61.7m
  • China – £59.9m up from £59.1m

Top 5 exports

  • Ireland – £45.1m up from £43.3m
  • Netherlands – £30.8m up from £29.3m
  • France – £29.1m up from £28.4m
  • USA – £27.4m down from £29.1m
  • Germany – £15.9m down from £18.3m

Lighting

Finally, lighting imports remained flat at £1.3bn year-on-year, with both EU and Non-EU imports also static at values of £395m and £1bn respectively.

Exports in the sector saw growth of 0.2% to £541m in 2019 from £539.4m in 2018. Both EU and Non-EU exports reported an increase, up by 0.5% to £328.3m from £326.6m and to £213m from £212.8m respectively.

Again, Chinese imports remained the market leader on imports by some distance towards £900m, with the next nation being Germany at a value of £82m. On exports, Ireland represented over £65m and was followed closely by France at a value of just over £60m.

Top 5 imports

  • China – £877.3m up from £819.6m
  • Germany – £82m down from £90m
  • USA – £49.4m up from £40.1m
  • Italy – £45.7m down from £49.4m
  • Hong Kong – £43.8m up from £38m

Top 5 exports

  • Ireland – £65.8m down from £68.4m
  • France – £61.7m up from £60.1m
  • USA – £43.5m up from £35.9m
  • Germany – £38.7m down from £41.1m
  • Netherlands – £35.3m down from £64.5m