The UK has been running a substantial deficit on its balance of payments with overseas countries for some time. The Office of Budget Responsibility has good news for us on this deficit. It forecasts that it will fall from over 5% of our National Income in 2014, to around 4% this year, 3% next year and then to around 2.5% thereafter. It points out the deterioration up to 2014 was caused by a weaker income balance, and suggests that going forward returns on UK investment abroad will pick up again.
If the deficit falls as estimated, then the UK will need to sell fewer assets overseas and raise fewer borrowings, which would be good news.
What we need to remember is the big role in all this of the rest of the EU. The net contribution we pay into the EU and do not get back in any form is over £10 billion a year. That is all a loss on our balance of payments account. If we vote to come out there will immediately be a £10 billion plus improvement in our balance of payments as a result. That is almost one fifth of next year’s forecast balance of payments deficit. The balance of trade is an account split into two parts, EU and non EU. The EU part remains in persistent heavy deficit, whilst we have a surplus with the rest of the world. EU trade has always been arranged in ways which favour Germany and some other continental countries and do not favour the UK. The UK accepted early and substantial liberalisation of trade in manufactured goods where Germany was strong, but has struggled to get a freer market in defence, business and financial services where the UK is stronger.
The UK has also chosen to be generous with its overseas aid. This too is a substantial and growing item entailing the movement of cash abroad, weakening the UK balance of payments. Germany with her huge surplus on her balance of payments does not make such a large contribution to other countries as the UK. The OBR has lowered its 2012 forecast for exports by 23%, reflecting slower world growth especially in the Eurozone and consequent slower trade growth.