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UK priority sector market overview

Priority sectors

Aerospace and space

The UK’s aerospace sector is one of the largest in the world and continues to make a significant contribution to the UK economy, maintaining an annual turnover of $40bn on average.  

Similar to Canada’s aerospace sector, the UK focuses on high value engineering, innovation as well as advanced manufacturing and services.

The industry is also seeing the benefits of a closer industry-government partnership with joint funding going towards technological innovation.

Specific opportunities for Canadian aerospace companies are in areas that can support production of:

The UK’s space sector continues to grow, accounting for 5.1% of the global space economy. The UK has recently launched their National Space Strategy, setting out their long-term plans to strengthen the UK’s position as a leading space nation. This approach plans to boost private investment and capitalise on UK strengths such as satellite manufacturing.

A renewed focus on space exploration presents opportunities for Canadian and UK companies to partner on innovation.   

Agriculture and agri-food

The UK food supply chain employs 4.1 million people & generates over £120 billion of added value for the economy each year. The UK imports around 40 percent of the total food it consumes and is reliant on both imports and its agricultural sector to feed itself and drive economic growth.

In 2020 the UK was Canada’s fourth largest export destination within Europe for agri-food products. 

Top exports from Canada are:

The UK is a priority market for wine exports and there is interest in craft beer and spirits.

Key trends in the UK include plant-based foods, vegetarian/vegan, convenience/snacking. E-commerce and online grocery shopping is continuing to rise.

Arts and cultural industries

The Gross Value Added (GVA) of the UK creative industries was provisionally estimated at $198.9bn in 2019 current prices (equivalent to contributing $22.7m every hour). Since 2010, GVA has increased by more than 43%, more than twice as fast as the UK economy.

The UK was Canada’s 3rd largest creative export partner in 2019 ($657.3m), and the largest in Europe. Canada’s creative exports to the UK have grown 48% between 2010-19.

The greatest opportunities exist in the subsectors of:

Defence and security

The UK’s defence sector generates $40bn in revenue. It is the second largest defence exporter in the world.

Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) is one of the largest defence tradeshows in the world and offers an excellent opportunity for Canadian companies to promote their defence products and services to the UK and other foreign militaries.    
The UK’s security and resilience sector generates over $30bn annually. It covers a wide spectrum of sub-sectors, ranging from cyber security to products and services that address terrorism threats and all other aspects of national security.


As the higher education sector continues to shift, the UK remains a key market for Canadian recruitment and partnership development.

For UK students seeking opportunities abroad, Canada is a top-ten destination, presenting low-cost, high quality study options with clear and desirable post-graduation visa pathways.

For UK higher education institutions seeking to diversify international partnerships, Canada provides unique mobility options and world-renowned R&D infrastructure.

Energy and clean technology

In 2020, Canada’s energy sector directly employed more than 293,000 people and indirectly supported over 552,500 jobs, accounting for approximately 8.1% of nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2020, energy exports totaled $95.1 billion while imports reached $30.9 billion. In the UK the sector accounts for 2.1% of GVA (Gross Value Added), and directly employs 181,000 people.

Energy continues to be a key driver for trade and investment in Canada and the UK with both countries undertaking a fundamental transitions towards a low carbon future. To drive this transition, both countries have legislated net-zero targets by 2050. The requirement to drastically reduce emissions and achieve decarbonisation targets is creating significant commercial opportunities. 

In November 2021 the UK hosted COP26, where governments reinforced commitments to addressing climate change and reducing carbon emissions. In the lead-up, the UK released a number of policy documents laying out pathways to decarbonisation across industry, and announced its enhanced commitment to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035. The UK has legislated ambitious targets, including the ban on the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, and a fully decarbonised electricity system by 2035.

Over the past decade, government support and private sector investment has resulted in the UK developing the largest capacity of offshore wind in the world. Currently at just over 10.4 GW of operational offshore wind capacity, the UK government has announced ambitions to reach 50 GW of capacity by 2030, including 5 GW of floating offshore wind.

Key additional areas of opportunity are:

Financial and insurance services

The UK has one of the largest financial industry sectors in the world, ranking second behind New York in the World Financial Centre rankings. 

The UK influences capital deployment and foreign direct investment (FDI) across global markets and other UK economic sectors domestically. 

This is through all investment vehicles such as:

The UK has a robust professional services market that supports the financial services sector in the areas of: 

The UK’s single regulatory body, supportive government, large innovation ecosystem, and a highly educated and diverse workforce has resulted in a thriving financial technology sector.

The fintech sector is the second largest globally after the US with key strengths in Open Banking, payments, challenger banks, lending, credit, personal finance and wealth, insurance, sustainable finance, insurance and blockchain applications.

The fintech sector is well supported by venture and corporate capital.

Information and communications technology (ICT)

Technology (ICT) businesses are at the heart of the UK economy with a turnover of $312.8bn while sustaining 1.6m jobs.

With 30 significant technology clusters across the UK, there are significant opportunities for Canadian exporters, especially for innovations in:

Technology adoption at UK Corporations and Government has evolved ICT supply chains to undertake:

Canadian technology companies possessing strong capabilities that meet the UK’s needs in these growing areas of digital transformation can play an important supply (or partnership) role and should consider the UK market for export development.

Infrastructure/building products and services

UK infrastructure is a major source of business for Canadian firms and a key part of the UK’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery. 

In November 2020 the UK published the country’s first National Infrastructure Strategy providing a long-term perspective for the UK’s infrastructure sector, including over CAD $1.1 trillion in projected public and private investment over the following ten years. Infrastructure is also key to the UK’s drive to net-zero by 2050 with design, product selection, manufacturing and construction processes all under review to meet this green agenda. 

Canadian companies that can help this process through low-carbon technologies or services should consider the UK market for export development. 

Life sciences

The UK is home to one of the world’s strongest and most productive life science economies and a significant market for medical devices, Health IT and related technologies. The UK Life Sciences market has been evolving over the past few years providing both challenges and opportunities for Canadian companies.

Impact of COVID on the National Health Service (NHS) budget has been significant. The UK has spent significant amounts of money on COVID-related procurement, vaccines and health services. Looking ahead and beyond the pandemic, health and social care spending will continue to rise.

Following Brexit, several laws governing clinical research and trials are likely to be altered in order to speed up drugs and vaccines development and production. This is aimed at making Global Britain an attractive investment location for pharmaceutical companies.

Canadian companies that are already using UK as a launch pad into the rest of Europe will likely benefit from such changes.

The Biotech/Pharma sector has seen large investments over the past few years. This has boosted the market, injected confidence and has led to potentials for expansion outside the UK for talent, technology and market share.

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