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UK exports to the EU dropped by almost 16% in 2021, says Food and Drink Federation

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3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
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UK exports of food and drink to the EU have plummeted by almost 16%, or £2.7bn, this year, compared to pre-pandemic figures.
The first three quarters of 2021 saw nearly 24% fewer sales of UK goods to the EU due to new Brexit trading rules as well as the continuing impact of the pandemic, a recent statement from the Food and Drink Federation revealed.

Since 2019, the FDF notes that the UK’s exports to Germany have gone down by nearly 45%, while exports to Italy have decreased by 43.3%. Exports to Spain have been some of the worst hit, having dropped by more than 50%.It is estimated the UK has lost around £0.75bn in sales to these countries.

Exports to Ireland, which is usually one of the UK’s biggest overseas markets, have decreased by over 25% since 2019.

Whilst global sales of salmon and whisky are recovering and are up by 21%, and soft drinks by 11%, other major exports are noticeably down. Beef is down by 18.4%, pork by 5.7% and cheese by 13.2%.

Imports have also gone down over the past two years. Sales from the EU decreased by almost 11% in the first 9 months of 2021 in comparison to levels in pre-pandemic times, which equates to a loss of over £2.5bn. Imports from the Netherlands, Ireland and Germany have been the heaviest hit since 2019.

Imports from the EU are expected to be affected even more in 2022, as the UK brings in further import controls on goods coming in from the European Union. These new rules could influence what food and drink is available on supermarket shelves from next year onwards, as well as the price of some essential items.

Head of International Trade at the FDF, Dominic Goudie said: “It is extremely disappointing to see how badly our trade with the EU has been affected, with our 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.

“The UK Government’s recent announcement of plans to take forward the FDF’s proposals to set up a new Food and Drink Export Council and put in place new in-market support are welcome. It is vital that the UK Government and devolved nations continue to work with industry to put in place a new model of partnership to support food and drink exporters.

“Food and drink, from farm-to-fork is uniquely placed to deliver on the Government’s levelling up agenda, delivering jobs and growth in every part of the UK. However, our supply chains continue to struggle, particularly through a lack of available workers. Businesses want to help the Government realise its Global Britain ambitions, but they need Government to clear the obstacles and help them take advantage of new opportunities.”

Despite the negative impact on exports and imports, the FDF notes that markets outside of the EU have not been badly affected. Exports were up 11% overall in non-EU markets, with an 22.1% growth in exports from China, 21.8% from Taiwan, 18.3% from the UAE, 10.6% from Japan and 5.4% from Singapore.

John Whitehead from the Food & Drink Exporters Association (FDEA) commented:

“The much-needed bounce back for salmon, whisky and soft drink exports is a real boost for the industry. It’s also encouraging to see meat sales to ASEAN countries rising driven by an increasing demand for pork. Our In Market Associates in both ASEAN and GCC markets report that there is also strong demand for added value products from the UK. It is the SME producers of value-added products hit hard by both Brexit and the pandemic who continue to need support to take advantage of these opportunities.”


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