Great Britain is primarily an industrial and commercial nation. Major industries, such as transportation, communications, steel, petroleum, coal, gas, and electricity, which had been nationalized by Labour governments, were sold to private investors by the Conservative government in the 1980s. The country is a world leader in international trade. In January 1973 Great Britain became a member of the European Community (now called the European Union).
The pound sterling, consisting of 100 pence, is the basic unit of currency. In 1968 Great Britain took the first step in a three-year conversion of its currency to the decimal system of coinage by introducing the first two new coins, the 5-new-pence piece (equal to 1 old shilling) and the 10-new -pence piece. The conversion was completed in 1971. The pound was permitted to float against the dollar and other world currencies beginning in June 1972.
The Bank of England, chartered in òèñÿ÷à ø³ñòñîò äåâ'ÿíîñòî ÷îòèðè, was nationalized in 1946 and is the bank of issue in England and Wales. Great Britain has 17 major commercial banks with more than 17,000 domestic and overseas branches, most of which are offices of the four leading banks: Lloyds, Barclays, National Westminster, and Midland. Several banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland may issue currencies in limited amounts. Some banking services are provided by the postal system, savings banks, and cooperative and building societies. Many foreign banks maintain offices in London.
Britain is one of the world's leading trading nations. Its major exports are road vehicles and other transportation equipment, industrial machinery, petroleum and petroleum products, electrical machinery, office machines and data processing equipment, power-generating machinery, organic chemicals, precision instruments, and iron and steel. Most domestic retail trade is conducted through independently owned shops, although the number of department, chain, and cooperative stores and supermarkets is increasing. More than half of all wholesale trade is carried out in London.
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