About Export Statistics Scotland

Information on export statistics produced by the Scottish Government.

As trade between countries is complex, trade figures are always estimated using statistical methods. Different methods of defining trade are likely to result in different estimations of a country’s trade. As Scotland does not control its own customs borders, this adds an additional layer of complexity as trade will often be apportioned to Scotland from UK values.

There is no equivalent export publication to Export Statistics Scotland for the UK or its regions. However, alternative data sources include:

HMRC UK Trade Data

HMRC collects information for the UK and data is available from the UK Trade Info website. The information refers to export of goods only. The two data sources which may be of interest are:

Regional Trade Statistics (RTS)

In RTS, trade is allocated to a region based on employment split. This is rather than where the location of the Head Office of the business is. For some energy goods, trade is allocated to the region where the goods enter or leave the UK. This is rather than the location/employment of the business doing the trade. These goods are Electrical energy, Natural Gas in a gaseous state and Crude Oil exported directly from offshore oil rigs. Crude Oil imported to the UK and exported from terminals is still allocated to the region of the business.

This new methodology has resulted in a higher proportion of UK trade allocated to Scotland and a reduced ‘unknown’ allocation.

Overseas Trade Statistics (OTS)

This is UK level trade data only but provides more detailed commodity information.

ONS International Trade in UK Nations, Regions, and Cities

ONS have developed an experimental methodology to estimate the value of imports and exports and total trade from 2016 to 2021, to and from subnational areas of the UK, including figures for Scotland.

The figures produced by ONS are derived from methodology that differs from that used by the Scottish Government to produce Export Statistics Scotland (ESS). ESS defines trade on a movement of goods basis, which means that goods must physically move from Scotland to another geographical location to be counted as an export. On the other hand, ONS defines trade on a balance of payments basis, which means that trade is only counted when a change of ownership has taken place. If a product moves across a customs border but remains under the same ownership, this is not counted as trade, using this method.

The implications of these differences are that a balance of payments method will often result in a higher estimation of trade, which is likely to be one of the reasons for the higher export value in the ONS figures compared to ESS figures that we’ve seen in published estimates.

There are also differences in how trade is attributed to Scotland. ONS begin with a trade value for the UK, and then apportion trade to Scotland using the proportion of employees in each region of the UK. On the other hand, ESS attempts to find companies that have economic activity in Scotland, based on Scottish local units from the Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR), and then uses a survey to measure the export activity of these Scottish companies. This data is then processed with a number of other data sources to produce the export estimates for Scotland. These approaches are likely to result in differences in the Scottish export values.

Furthermore, Scottish Government official trade statistics exclude trade in oil and gas. Scotland's Quarterly National Accounts (QNAS) produce statistics for Scotland's onshore economy, including trade statistics. QNAS excludes any extra-regio activity, such as off-shore oil and gas extraction. For ESS, estimates of Scottish exports exclude any exports of oil and gas extracted from the UK continental shelf. This means that the ESS export estimate excludes companies classified as 'Extraction of crude petroleum' [SIC (2007) 6.1] and 'Extraction of natural gas' [SIC (2007) 6.2].

In the latest release of ONS International Trade in UK Nations, Regions, and Cities, ONS introduced an extra-regio category, which includes parts of the national economic territory which cannot be attached directly to a single region, including some offshore oil transactions and territorial enclaves. However, the values for this category are quite low compared to values for mineral fuels seen in HMRC Regional Trade Statistics (RTS), and trends in the data suggest that the ONS estimates for Scotland are still heavily impacted by oil and gas trade. HMRC RTS statistics show that Scotland’s exports of oil and gas were worth between £9 and £17 billion each year from 2016 to 2021. Adding this to the ESS export estimates would bring them more in line with the ONS estimates, which suggests that inclusion of some oil and gas exports may be contributing to the higher trade values seen in the ONS data.

The Scottish Government has worked with the Office for National Statistics and other producers of measures of trade to compile a user guide to regional trade data.


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

Email: exports.statistics@gov.scot

Telephone: 0141 278 4466

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

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