The vocation to trade is fundamental in the history of the United Kingdom. A tradition that has reached its heights over the course of the century. XVIII and XIX with the development of the great merchant companies (East India Company and Hudson’s Bay Company), colonial expansion and the establishment of the Empire. The preferential ties with the Commonwealth have now been absorbed by the various economic cooperation organizations of which the United Kingdom is a part (among the main ones, the European Union and the WTO). If the trade balance shows a constant deficit, due to the weakness of external demand, especially of the main client countries of the United Kingdom which are in a phase of economic stagnation and disadvantaged by the strength of the pound against the euro, the British economy confirms it as one of the most open and dynamic in the world. Affected by large flows of foreign investment, Great Britain operates equally incisively on foreign markets. In recent years, the British have distinguished themselves as the largest foreign investors in the world after the United States: about 50% of trade takes place with the countries of the European Union, especially with Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy, 13% about with the United States and Canada. Among British exports (288. US $ 647 million in 2002) includes machinery, means of transport, chemical products and man-made synthetic fibers, electrical and precision equipment, while the main imports (US $ 351,708 million in 2002) include raw materials (textile fibers, minerals etc.), foodstuffs, wood and paper products, machinery, chemicals and means of transport. Services continue to be a leading sector of the UK economy. In fact, they contribute about 2/3 to the formation of the GDP, employing almost 20 million people, over 75% of the country’s workforce. Of great importance is the financial market: the London Stock Exchange, by far the most important in Europe, follows Wall Street in importance worldwide. Although the United Kingdom has decided not to join the first group of countries participating in the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and not to adopt the euro as its national currency (reserving the right to decide on participation at a later time), the Square Mile (the “square mile”) of the City of London, where the City’s banking, insurance and consulting services are located, continues to represent one of the world’s leading financial centers and Europe’s largest. Among the expanding sectors, the insurance sector (of international importance is the Lloyd’s company, one of the largest in the world, which collects more than 2/3 of its premiums abroad), that of sales, both wholesale and retail, supported by strong consumer and real estate demand, grown thanks to the strong demand for housing.
According to Businesscarriers, the telecommunications sector, on the other hand, after years of strong growth, is experiencing a significant slowdown. It should also be noted that various external territories and dependencies of the United Kingdom (Gibraltar, Anguilla, Bermuda, Cayman, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Man), censored by the OECD in 2000 as “tax havens”, in 2001-2002 have adopted limited anti-money laundering measures. The morphological characteristics of Great Britain, the lack of real natural barriers, the dense hydrographic network and the remarkable coastal development, have contributed to the development of the communication routes. In particular, the best served areas are England and southern Scotland, while some shortcomings can be seen in sparsely populated or economically less developed areas. Given its continued prominence as the largest manufacturing and urban agglomeration, London has always been a major communications hub. Over time, however, it has had to suffer the consequences of some changes in the transport system so that its port is now largely dismantled, with the area of the old docks became a residential and business area, while port activities were moved to the mouth of the Thames. The other vertices of the British network have, since the past, been the large port outlets, to which are added some fundamental industrial centers in the interior, such as Birmingham. In the nineteenth century the inland waterways were also widely exploited, which exploited the four main rivers of the country, the Thames, the Severn, the Mersey and the Trent, suitably connected by canals now kept in operation for tourist purposes only. Roads, motorways and railways thicken naturally in south-east England, depending on the London area, whose port on the Thames estuary is the main gateway to the island. But the country has over 400 ports, small and large, variously specialized. Among the many, of particular importance are: Liverpool and Manchester (reachable by canal), in the Irish Sea; on the English Channel, Southampton and Dover, the main passenger port of the continent; at the southern end of St George’s Canal, Milford Haven, which is more properly the terminal of a large pipeline; on the North Sea, the nearby Stockton-on-Tees and Hartlepool, as well as, further south, Kingston-upon-Hull, Grimsby and Felixstowe, the latter having established itself, in the last years of the twentieth century, as the major port specialized in the handling of containers; still on the North Sea, but in Scotland, are the so-called “ports of the Forth”, developed on the basis of oil, just as oil terminals are the ports on the Thames, ie Isle of Grain, Coryton and Thames Haven; on the Bristol, Newport and Bristol Channel; finally on the North Channel are Glasgow, Scotland’s main seaport, and Belfast, Northern Ireland’s largest port center.
The existence of such a dense port network is obviously linked to the extraordinary British maritime expansion: the recent international economic evolution has however determined a clear reduction in the importance of the national merchant fleet for Great Britain. The country was soon equipped with railways: the first trunks that came into operation were the Stockton-Darlington and the Liverpool-Manchester, between 1825 and 1830, and in the following decades all the main railway lines were already completed. At the beginning of the century. XX Great Britain possessed 38,000 km of railway lines, however divided between over a hundred private companies and which often presented very poor machinery and rolling stock. After the Second World War the sector was nationalized and completely restructured. Currently, the overall development of the railway network (17,052 km in 2002) is reduced to less than half compared to the period of maximum expansion, but with generally efficient services, also following the recent re-privatization process. The road network is very complex and extends over 392,408 km (of which 3605 km of motorways). The main lines are represented by the connection between London and the Midlands, North and South West, and the ring road around London. Air traffic is also very intense; the largest company is there British Airways, which has scheduled services with approx. 80 foreign countries. London is naturally one of the busiest airports in the world (Heathrow and Gatwick airports); the other major British airports are Glasgow (Abbotsinch), Manchester (Ringway), Luton, Edinburgh (Turnhouse), Birmingham and, in Northern Ireland, Belfast (Aldergrove). The United Kingdom is firmly among the top 10 favorite destinations for international tourism. The main destinations are London, the university cities, where many foreigners also stay to study the language and, in general, the Southeast, while only a small part goes to Scotland and the western regions: to the latter, instead, more pay attention to domestic demand. Further impetus to the sector was given by the opening of the Eurotunnel (1994), a railway link which, under the Channel, joins the country to France: 50 km long (38 of which are submarines), it is made up of two passage tunnels and one service tunnel.