LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's goods trade deficit narrowed slightly in November, helped by a pickup in exports to recovering economies in Europe, official data showed on Thursday.
The Office for National Statistics said the deficit shrank to 9.44 billion pounds, in line with economists' forecasts in a Reuters poll, from 9.65 billion pounds in October.
Britain's economy staged an unexpectedly strong recovery last year, but the turnaround was driven mainly by domestic spending, frustrating the government's plan to get the economy more focused on exports.
Economists have been surprised that exports have been so weak in recent months even as an incipient recovery gets underway in the global economy, including among some of Britain's main trading partners in the euro zone.
Private surveys of British companies have shown a stronger picture for exports than the ONS data in recent months.
Even if imports pick up, Britain is likely to carry on importing more than it exports as the country's turnaround fuels domestic demand.
Over the three months to November, exports were down 2.3 percent, slowing their pace of decline in the two previous months, while imports rose 1.1 percent.
In November, exports were boosted by increased sales to several other countries in the European Union, in particular chemical products exported to Germany, an ONS official said.
Exports to the EU rose to 12.75 billion pounds in November, their highest level since August.
Imports to Britain from the EU hit an all-time high, pushed up by cars as British consumers took advantage of cheap finance deals which have propelled registrations in 2013 close to their levels before the financial crisis.
The goods trade deficit with non-EU countries narrowed to 3.02 billion pounds in November from 3.11 billion pounds in October and smaller than forecasts for a gap of 3.5 billion pounds.
Including Britain's surplus in trade in services, the overall trade deficit narrowed to 3.24 billion pounds from 3.50 billion pounds in October.
In contrast to Britain's struggling export performance, Germany reported a trade surplus of nearly 18 billion euros in November and its exports rose for a fourth month in a row, data showed on Wednesday.
Net trade was a big drag on quarterly economic growth in the July-September period when it lopped 1.2 percentage points off GDP and helped push the current account deficit to its highest level in 24 years in the quarter.
A first estimate of economic growth in the fourth quarter is due to be announced on January 28. Britain's economy grew by 0.8 percent in the third quarter, compared with the previous three months, taking annualised growth to more than 3 percent.
Reporting by William Schomberg and David Milliken