More upbeat economic news: UK exports hit record high of £78bn
'Encouraging for hopes that growth is not only strengthening but becoming more broadly based'
Britain exported a record £78.4 billion of goods between April and June thanks to surging demand from countries outside Europe in the latest sign that the recovery is taking hold.
The all-time high for the second quarter came after a record-breaking performance in June, with exports of £26.9 billion, up by £1.3 billion from May, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
This saw the UK trade deficit on goods - the balance between imports and exports - narrow to a better-than-expected £8.1 billion in June from £8.7 billion the previous month.
The official figures add to mounting cheer over the UK recovery after a raft of upbeat reports from key sectors and boost hopes of rebalancing the economy away from imports and towards exports.
Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, said the trade data were "encouraging for hopes that growth is not only strengthening but becoming more broadly based".
He said: "The hope is that a competitive pound and gradually improving global growth increasingly supports exports."
But Martin Beck, UK economist at consultancy Capital Economics, raised doubts over a significant rebalancing towards exports.
"Growing signs of a consumer-led recovery, and the increased import demand that implies, means that the trade deficit will probably still struggle to narrow further over the coming months," he said.
The ONS said exports to countries outside the European Union rose by £1.3 billion to £14.2 billion in June, with demand strong for goods such as UK manufactured aircraft and works of art.
It adds to cheer for UK manufacturers, after ONS figures showed the sharpest rise in output from the sector in nearly a year.
Manufacturing output rose 1.9 per cent quarter-on-quarter in June, with all parts of the sector - spanning car to food-manufacturers - growing monthly output for the first time in more than 20 years.
Rachel Pettigrew, senior economist at manufacturers' organisation EEF, said: "This positive trade data supports our view that the manufacturing sector will gain momentum and will be a source of growth for the UK economy over the coming years."
The EEF added that exports to non-EU countries have grown by 49 per cent since 2009 and now exceed those to the EU.
Increasing exports to non-EU countries has been seen as key to helping the recovery after the eurozone crisis hit what was once the UK's biggest trade partner.
Exports to the EU fell by 0.6 per cent to £12.8 billion in June, although imports rose by 4 per cent to £18.2 billion.
Despite the encouraging export data, imports still outstripped demand for British goods from abroad, hitting £103.3 billion in the second quarter - the highest level since the end of 2011.
David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "Our trade deficit is still too large and we aren't making enough progress in rebalancing our economy towards net exports.
"Our recent surveys reveal huge untapped potential among British exporters, especially in the service sector, and unleashing this potential will help to secure a sustainable recovery."
There was a £6.5 billion surplus in services exports in June, helping narrow the overall deficit on goods and services to £1.5 billion from £2.6 billion in May.
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