Publication - Factsheet

About Export Statistics Scotland

Last updated: 25 Nov 2021 - see all updates
Published: 2 Oct 2019
Chief Economist Directorate
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Information on export statistics produced by the Scottish Government.

About Export Statistics Scotland
Frequently asked questions

This page provides answers to some of the most common questions received on Scottish trade statistics. If you have any additional queries or feedback on this document, please contact

What is the Export Statistics Scotland publication?

The Scottish Government produces a National Statistics publication, Export Statistics Scotland (ESS), which estimates the value of Scottish exports at sector level. It includes estimates for goods and service exports and is the only source of estimates for exports from Scotland to the rest of the UK. The ESS publication is usually published in January. However the ESS 2019 publication was delayed due to the postponement of the 2019 Global Connections Survey (GCS), which is one of the key sources for this data. This was done in recognition of the challenges and pressures faced by businesses in dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic and preparing for EU exit. The 2019 publication was published in October 2021.

How are the figures from the Export Statistics Scotland publication produced?

The main source for the ESS is the Global Connections Survey (GCS). The GCS is administered by the Scottish Government and sent to 6,000 business in Scotland each year, targeted at the most export intensive companies. Other data are then used to enhance the GCS including surveys such as the Office of National Statistics (ONS) Monthly Business Survey and the International Trade in Services Survey (ITIS) and various administrative data sources, including the HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) produced Overseas Trade Statistics.

ESS is designated as a National Statistics product, which means that it is produced independently of Scottish Ministers and has been assessed by the UK Statistics Authority as being produced in line with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. This means the statistics have been found to meet user needs, to be methodologically sound, explained well and produced free of political interference.

Are Scottish goods which are exported via ports from the rest of the UK counted as international Scottish exports?

Yes. The ESS publication measures the destination of goods exported from Scotland regardless of the port from which they leave the UK.

How are Scotch Whisky exports treated?

All international exports relevant to Scotch Whisky are counted as Scottish exports, irrespective of the port at which they depart the UK. The data is sourced from the HMRC Overseas Trade Statistics report.

Scotch Whisky exports to the rest of the UK are estimated based on GCS responses, as HMRC do not collect information on trade within the UK.

How does ESS treat the situation where Scottish goods are initially exported to the rest of the UK, and subsequently re-exported?

The ESS estimates only capture the first point of export. This means if a good is exported to a company in the rest of the UK and that company then exports it somewhere else, ESS will only capture the export to the rest of the UK.

Direct sales from Scottish companies to international destinations are counted as international exports regardless of where they leave the UK.

What proportion of exports to the rest of the UK are then re-exported internationally?

While undoubtedly some exports to the rest of the UK will be re-exported, including as part of other products, it is not possible to say exactly what this proportion is. However over half of Scottish exports to the rest of the UK are services (such as financial services) and are unlikely to be re-exported abroad. Also, many of the goods exported to the rest of the UK are in sectors where re-exporting is unlikely (utilities, retail and wholesale).

Why do we end up with the “Rotterdam Effect” if the statistics are measuring the end destination?

Although it does not matter which port in the UK that Scottish goods leave from in counting export statistics, the port in Rotterdam acts as a major distribution hub as well as a port. This means that Rotterdam is often the destination of many goods exported from Scotland (and the rest of the UK) which are then subsequently re-exported to other destinations. This results in what is known as the “Rotterdam Effect” – where the amount of exports to the Netherlands is artificially inflated.

Do the statistics take account of supply chains or value added products?

For some companies operating in Scotland, their products are feeding into a global supply chain. For example, they may sell a good to a company in England who subsequently incorporate it into a product which is exported internationally. In such a situation, only the sale from the Scottish company to their customer in England would be counted as a Scottish export. It would be recorded as a Scottish export to the rest of the UK.

What other sources of Scottish export statistics are available?

ESS is the only official source of Scottish exports which includes estimates for both goods and services.

The Scottish Government also produce the Index of Manufactured Exports (IME). This is a quarterly publication measuring growth, in real terms, of overseas export sales by the manufacturing sector in Scotland. These figures are now published within the Quarterly National Accounts report.

The HMRC Regional Trade Statistics (RTS) are published on a quarterly basis. This is a National Statistics publication and provides a breakdown of the flows of imports and exports between regions and countries of the UK and other countries. RTS includes trade of goods only. It excludes trade in services (e.g. banking, tourism) and intangibles (e.g. financial investments or transfers). Further information on their methodology is available.

ONS also produce experimental statistics estimating international exports of services from Scotland, based on the existing UK ITIS publication. Their figures for Scotland were different from those produced in ESS due to differences in methodology and data sources. Further information on their methodology is available.

How can I compare the Scottish export statistics with equivalent figures for England or the UK?

There are no equivalent UK or English figures to ESS. Comparisons can be made using HMRC RTS but, as mentioned above, this will only include exports of goods and also excludes trade within the UK.

Where can I find statistics on imports for Scotland?

There are no statistics on the total value of imports to Scotland on a comparable basis to ESS. Estimates of imports on a Balance of Payments basis are produced in Scottish Government Quarterly National Accounts publication, along with a net trade balance for the onshore economy. HMRC also publish statistics on imports of goods from overseas to Scotland in their RTS.


If you have any enquiries relating to these statistics then please contact us at:


Telephone: 0141 278 4466

Trade Statistics
5th Floor Atlantic Quay 5
150 Broomielaw
G2 8LU


First published: 2 Oct 2019 Last updated: 25 Nov 2021 -