UK EXPORTS of food and drink were down by £2.7billion – a slump of 15.9% – in the first three quarters of 2021, compared to pre-pandemic levels.

According to the UK Food and Drink Federation, this was largely due to a drop in sales to the EU of £2.4bn (-23.7%) resulting from new barriers to trade and the ongoing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Exports to core markets including Germany (down 44.5%), Italy (down 43.3%), and Spain (down 50.6%) have been particularly badly hit since 2019, while UK exports to Ireland – our industry’s biggest overseas market – are down more than a quarter since 2019, representing a loss of nearly £0.75bn in sales.

However, global exports of whisky and salmon have started to recover, with sales of both products up 21% compared to 2020. All other major products, including beef (-18.4%), cheese (-13.2%) and pork (-5.7%) have continued to decline.

More positive news can be seen in non-EU markets in the past year, with exports up 11%, driven by 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 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, 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."