UK food and drink exports to EU almost halve in first quarter

Fall in sales due to post-Brexit changes and effect of coronavirus pandemic, industry figures say.

Dairy exporters were the hardest hit by the slump in sales, with sales of cheese from the UK to the EU nosediving by two-thirds [File: Phil Noble/Reuters]
Dairy exporters were the hardest hit by the slump in sales, with sales of cheese from the UK to the EU nosediving by two-thirds [File: Phil Noble/Reuters]

Food and drink exports from the United Kingdom to the European Union nearly halved during the first three months of this year compared with the same period in 2020, mostly due to changes in post-Brexit trading relationships but also as the pandemic weighed.

Figures published on Friday by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) revealed a 47 percent downturn in such sales to the bloc in the first quarter of 2021, which followed the UK’s exit from its single market and customs union at the end of last year.

Food and drink exports to the EU over the three-month period leading up to the end of March were valued at 1.7bn pounds ($2.3bn), compared with last year’s 3.1bn pounds ($4.3bn).

The decline was even greater when measured over a two-year period, with food and drink exports down 55 percent in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period in 2019, when 3.7bn pounds ($5.1bn) worth of such products were sold to the bloc.

“The loss of two billion pounds of exports to the EU is a disaster for our industry, and is a very clear indication of the scale of losses that UK manufacturers face in the longer-term due to new trade barriers with the EU,” said the federation’s head of international trade Dominic Goudie.

The FDF figures are based on government data.

It also cited the coronavirus pandemic, which reached European shores in early 2020, as a contributing factor.

Dairy exporters were the hardest hit.

Milk and cream exports to the EU dropped more than 90 percent, while cheese exports nosedived by two-thirds.

John Whitehead, director of the UK’s Food and Drink Exporters Association, said the downturn was in part due to EU importers having stockpiled goods from the UK ahead of Brexit.

But he added that “significant business” has also been lost as a “direct result of the additional bureaucracy, customs delays and costs of trading with the EU” following the UK’s departure from the bloc.

Sales of soft drinks, fish and potatoes fell by 70.5, 68 and 63 percent respectively.

Export rates to several individual EU member states also declined sharply.

From January to March, food and drink exports to EU member Ireland dropped by nearly 71 percent. Sales to Portugal, Spain and Italy also more than halved.

This shift meant the UK exported more food and drink outside the bloc than into it for the first time in decades, according to the FDF.

Overall sales to non-EU countries made up 55 percent of all food and drink exports, compared with less than 40 percent a year earlier, the federation’s figures showed.

While exports to non-EU nations only rose by 0.3 percent year-on-year in total, several markets witnessed significant growth.

Sales to China grew by 28 percent, for example, while exports to South Korea rose by 19 percent.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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