By Reuters Staff

FILE PHOTO: Containers are stacked at the Port of Felixstowe, Britain, January 28, 2021. Picture taken January 28, 2021. REUTERS/Peter Cziborra

LONDON (Reuters) – Exports and imports from Britain to the European Union plunged during the first month of the countrys new trade relationship with the bloc, according to data published on Friday with some heavy caveats.

Exports of goods to the EU, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, slumped by 40.7% in January, the Office for National Statistics said. Imports fell by 28.8%

The ONS had previously warned that the hit to trade from the COVID-19 pandemic would make it difficult to identify a Brexit impact from new customs arrangements in Januarys data.

But it said there were signs that this hurt trade at the start of the year.

External evidence suggests some of the slower trade for goods in early January 2021 could be attributable to disruption caused by the end of the transition period, the ONS said.

It said the weak figures likely reflected a lull after stockpiling in November and December ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period and it also pointed to a new national coronavirus lockdown in Britain that started in January.

All of these are potential contributing factors to the fall in January trade in goods, the ONS said.

Britains overall goods trade deficit, including non-EU countries, narrowed to 9.826 billion pounds ($13.70 billion) in January from 14.315 billion pounds in December.