UK records large and persistent drop in food & drink exports; “the price of Brexit,” says trade body boss

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UK food and drink exports were down £2.7bn (-15.9%) in the first three quarters of 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels, show figures published by the Food & Drink Federation (FDF). This is largely due to a drop in sales to the EU of £2.4bn (-23.7%) resulting from new barriers to trade with the EU and the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Commenting on the data, Scotland Food & Drink CEO James Withers simply said: “this is the price of Brexit".

UK records large and persistent drop in food & drink exports; “the price of Brexit,” says trade body boss
Photo © Copyright The Carlisle Kid

Exports to core markets including Germany (-44.5%), Italy (-43.3%) and Spain (-50.6%) have been particularly badly hit since 2019, while UK exports to Ireland – the industry’s biggest overseas market – are down more than a quarter since 2019.

Global exports of whisky and salmon have started to recover, with sales of both products up 21% compared to 2020. On the other hand, other major products, including beef (-18.4%), cheese (-13.2%) and pork (-5.7%) have continued to decline, with the exception of soft drinks which grew 11% from 2020.

More positive news can be seen in non-EU markets in the past year, with exports up 11% thanks to a return to strong growth in China (+22.1%), Taiwan (+21.8%), the UAE (+18.3%), Japan (+10.6%) and Singapore (+5.4%).

Imports have been badly impacted since 2019, with sales from the EU down nearly 11% in the nine months to September compared to pre-COVID levels – a fall of more than £2.5bn. Imports from the Netherlands (-19%), Ireland (-20.1%) and Germany (-33.1%) were the most severely hit over the last two years.

With the UK due to implement its delayed import controls on products arriving from the EU in 2022, this will further impact the cost and availability of supplies of food and drink from the EU, including essential ingredients and raw materials required by UK manufacturers.

FDF’s Head of International Trade, Dominic Goudie, finds it “extremely disappointing” to see how badly the trade with the EU has been affected, with the smallest exporters hardest hit.

“It is essential that the Government works constructively with the EU to improve the implementation of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement to ensure that it works for small businesses, otherwise this downturn will be here to stay,” Goudie says.

Scotland Food & Drink CEO James Withers also bitterly commented on the figures, referring to the data as “the price of Brexit”. Withers has also called for a deal on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures to remove costs and bureaucracy.

UK and Australia trade deal officially signed

Meanwhile, the UK and Australia have officially signed a trade deal that shall removes tariffs on all UK exports, making it cheaper to sell iconic products like cars, Scotch whisky and UK fashion to Australia.

According to the government, the deal also makes it easier and cheaper to import Australian favourites like Jacob’s Creek and Hardys wines, Tim Tams and surfboards. Farmers in the UK nonetheless remain concerned that cheaper imported meat from Australia could impact their market share and bottom lines.

Photo © Copyright The Carlisle Kid and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

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