Belfast Telegraph

'Increasing demand' for British goods hailed as holiday exports hit £302m

Tourists may be able to buy British when they travel abroad this summer as sunglasses, swimwear and ice creams are among holiday goods that account for hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of UK exports.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said the £302 million-worth of holiday products exported in 2016, including £160 million-worth of sunglasses, £93 million-worth of swimwear and £16 million-worth of ice cream, showed "increasing demand" for British goods.

He also highlighted the £8 million-worth of flip flops exported around the world last year, according to HM Revenue and Customs figures.

As millions of Britons joined the summer getaway, Dr Fox said: "From ice cream to swimwear, you can find UK holiday exports in travel destinations around the world.

"Last year alone, more than £300 million-worth of these goods have been sold to shoppers across the globe showing increasing demand for home-grown summer essentials."

But it came as data showed a more recent slump in exported goods despite expectations that the pound's weakness since last year's Brexit vote, which Dr Fox backed, would boost trade by making British products cheaper for overseas buyers.

The figures published on Thursday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed an improvement to UK trade again failed to materialise.

The UK's deficit in goods and services, the gap between exports and imports, widened by £2 billion to £4.6 billion between May and June after a fall in exported goods, according to the ONS.

Dr Fox's main remit in Government is to pave the way for the agreement of free trade deals with countries outside the European Union after Britain's withdrawal from the bloc.

And his Department for International Trade (DIT) highlighted figures which could point towards industries that may benefit from such deals.

Among holiday goods, £3.7 million-worth of British playing cards were exported to non-EU countries last year, £2.1 million-worth of which went to Australia, which has made clear it stands ready to negotiate a deal.

Meanwhile, British ice cream accounted for £1.3 million-worth of exports to non-EU countries.

These were a small contribution to Britain's £547.6 billion-worth of exports of goods and services in 2016, with 43.9% of those going to the EU, according to DIT.

Dr Fox said: "As an international economic department, we are supporting British business to take advantage of the growing global markets after we leave the EU and design a trade relationship in Britain's national interest.

"There has never been a better time for our dynamic and innovative businesses to export their goods and services abroad."

Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said Dr Fox was attempting to divert attention from Britain's "weak" performance, with the ONS figures showing the worst monthly trade deficit since November 2011, excluding "erratic" items.

Mr Gardiner said: "Celebrating the success of British ice cream, sunglasses and swimwear is all very well, but the truth is that the UK is a net importer of all those products.

"All in all, we import £93 million more of sunglasses, £132 million more of ice cream, and £74 million more of swimwear than we export.

"Of course the real irony is that our major trading partners for all of these 'holiday goods' are European countries such as Italy, Germany, Ireland, France and Belgium.

"This just reinforces the importance of a future trade agreement with the EU. That must be the Government's top trade priority."

The Labour frontbencher added: "Putting out selective figures may be politically convenient for Liam Fox; but it will not mask the fact that he does not have a coherent trade strategy to improve our widening trade deficit."

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: "Liam Fox's Department for International Trade should be renamed the Ministry for Brexit Propaganda after releasing these laughably biased figures.

"Despite Liam Fox's attempts to paint a positive picture, the country's economic outlook is looking increasingly bleak because of the huge uncertainty being caused by Brexit.

"Conservative ministers should stop flip-flopping and commit to protecting jobs by keeping Britain in the single market."

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