UK industry declined in its competitiveness in the 1970's due to lower labour costs
around the globe especially those from Asia. By the following decade, the conservative
government under Margaret Thatcher began a process of privatizing much of UK's manufacturing
industries such as car, truck, aircraft, and steel. UK was the first country to
switch from an agricultural to a manufacturing driven country during a historical
period called the industrial revolution.
The major manufacturing industries within UK today are: engineering, food and drink,
metals, minerals, tobacco, printing, chemical, paper, clothing and footwear. Much
of the UK economy is dependent on trade with other countries. For instance, UK imports
about one third of its food supply. Many of the raw materials for manufacturing
must be imported.
Growth of international trade has had a negative impact on the apparel industry in
UK. Imports from developing countries have dominated the domestic market. UK manufacturing
companies have relocated their facilities to lower cost countries such as India and
China. This trend continues to grow today. Jobs in this manufacturing sector have
declined accordingly. It represents a good opportunity for those importers in UK
interested in buying fashion overseas.
The decline in footwear manufacturing and footwear exports in UK began several decades
ago. To remain competitive, many of the UK footwear production have moved to cheaper
sites outside of the UK. Materials have shifted away from leather to less expensive
plastics and vinyl. Similar to the clothing industry, the remaining footwear manufacturers
in UK began a process of specialization such as focusing on high end sports footwear.
Food and Drink
UK's Food and Drink industry is the country's largest manufacturing industry. It
employs over 400,000 employees across 7000 companies. As an industry, it is quite
diverse. Food products include bakery, confectionary, dairy and processed foods.
Drinks include various kinds of soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. Due to its
energy intensive process, reducing CO2 emissions and footprint is a growing trend
amongst Food & Drink companies.
The tobacco industry in the UK produces cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, rolling
tobacco and snuff. The industry is capital intensive due to the high degree of automation.
It is also heavily taxed as a revenue source for the U.K. government. This industry
has caused much public debate over the years due to the health risks associated with
the products. Smoking advertising has been scrutinized.
There are more than 10,000 printing companies in UK employing well over 150,000 employees.
Although this industry has over capacity resulting in declining prices, it is still
one of the largest industries in UK. Products in the printing industry include newspapers,
magazines, books, stationary, greeting cards, banknotes and postage stamps. The
two largest printing companies in UK are St. Ives and Stephens and George. St. Ives
is focused on advertising and magazine printing. Stephens and George specializes
in sheet-fed litho printing of magazines and commercial products.
The chemical industry in the UK adds value by converting chemicals and selling the
products for further conversion or for manufacturing into final products. Such final
products cover a wide range of categories from soaps, dyes, fuels, fuel additives,
pesticides, fertilizers, paints, cleaners, inks, and medicines. The chemical industry
is one of the largest exports in the UK as measured by sales. Much of the industry
is regulated due to product safety and the potential impact on the environment. Reducing
carbon emissions and the green movement are topics of great interest today.
The production of paper in UK has its origins linking it to the Chinese. The knowledge
of making paper migrated from China to the Middle East and then to Europe by the
eleventh century. John Tate operated UK's first paper mill on the River Lee near
Hertford by the end of the fifteenth century. Today, the production of paper in
UK receives lots of attention from the Green movement due to forestry being a renewable
resource. The paper industry has shifted to using recycled paper as a major raw material.
In fact, the UK has a surplus of waste paper due to the country's increasing recycling
efforts. About a third of the country's waste paper is exported to china and the
Far East. Much of the paper making process has improved to be "green" friendly with
goals of reducing carbon emission.
The engineering industry in UK can be broken down into electrical, electronic, instrumentation,
transportation and mechanical types of engineering. Many of the firms involved in
engineering produce products that are highly profitable ranging from telecommunications
The metal industry is one of UK's great exports. Much of the industry is evolved
around the production of steel for use in motor vehicle manufacturing, wire, cans,
metal boxes and industrial plants. The metal industry peaked in the 1970's until
the oil crisis. A shift to the production of smaller automobiles has negatively
impacted the steel demand. One of the most important steel companies in UK is the
British Steele Corporation. It produces the majority of the nation's iron and steel
The UK metal industry still needs to import about one quarter of the finished steel
products to UK. UK also imports about half of its demand for crude steel. Steel
rods typically come from Turkey or Venezuela, and structural beams from Japan or
The minerals industry in the UK covers cement, glass and ceramics. Sand, gravel
and limestone are used in the construction industry to make cement. Other minerals
valued are slate, tale, chalk, talc, clay, sandstone, gypsum, barite, celestite,
dolomite and kaolin.
UK Industry & Import Opportunities
For the UK importer, it is important to understand the trends within the major UK
industries. For industries which already import much of the products such as footwear
or clothing, there may be direct import opportunities. For UK industries with a
strong export orientation such as paper, there may be opportunities to supply paper
industry with products and services used by the industry. Take your time and explore
the UK import opportunities accordingly.