Under both recent governments the UK has got used to buying many more imported goods than we export. Years ago when we did this, we sold more services abroad and enjoyed a surplus of earnings on investments from overseas, which gave us sufficient foreign currency to pay for the goods.
Now we still generate a surplus from services, but no longer enjoy the same big net income from investments overseas compared to foreign interests taking loan interest and dividends out of the UK based on their investments here. All those years of boasting about how much foreign investment we have attracted into the UK takes its toll on the national income and wealth figures. Every time a foreigner buys an existing company or puts in a new factory of his own, he gains the right to take money out of the UK as those assets earn him income. There are now bigger foreign incomes on assets in the UK than we earn from holdings of wealth elsewhere.
If we cannot export enough goods and services to pay for all the imports, and if we no longer have enough interest and dividends coming in from our overseas holdings to offset all the interest and dividends now going out, we need to find another way to pay the bills. We have to either sell some assets to foreigners, or borrow money from abroad to keep hold of the assets we have. It amounts to the same thing in the end. If the UK does not sort out its balance of payments deficit, the loans will have to be repaid by selling some underlying assets.
When I wrote here briefly recently that the UK has to sell assets to pay for the imports, I was not recommending it as a policy. I was merely pointing out the obvious. Some seemed shocked. How else do you think we have been managing to import so much more than we can afford out of our regular income? How else do you propose we pay for all the excess imports if we cannot export more?
The Coalition government wants us to export more. That is the best way to afford our imports. We should be keen to export services as well as goods, as they all earn us the foreign currency we need to pay the bills. T0morrow I will look at the way the UK likes to attack the very businesses that offer us most hope of exporting our way out of this problem.
I have just been reading the excellent Civitas Report on trade and the EU. It shows that under the regime of the single market the UK reaped no benefit by beign inside the so called market. Our exports to the rest of the EU went up much less than those of many countries which stayed outside the arrangement.