Non-EU food and drink exports returning to pre-pandemic levels

Sales of UK food and drink to non-EU countries were up 13%, accounting £4.3bn of all UK food and drink exports in H1 2021, according to data published this week by the Food and Drink Federation.

Growth was driven by exports to China, Singapore, Australia, Japan and the Gulf region, it said, adding that the increase means non-EU exports are now almost back to pre-COVID levels.

In other non-EU markets, including in Central and South America, sales to some countries have doubled since H1 2020.

The fastest growing major export markets in the region were Colombia (+142.6%), Mexico (+111.2%), Chile (+105.4%) and Brazil (+87.2%). This increase has been driven by a recovery in sales of whisky and vegetable oils, supported by increased demand for other UK products growing rapidly from a much lower baseline.

Despite the return to growth in these countries, overall sales of UK food and drink are down £2bn compared to pre-pandemic levels, because of a sharp drop in sales to the EU – a trend the federation puts down to a combination of the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, and new barriers to trade resulting from the new trading arrangements.

Exports to nearly all EU member states fell significantly, including a fall of £0.5bn in sales to Ireland, while sales to Germany, Spain and Italy are each down around a half since H1 2019.

Dominic Goudie, head of international trade, the FDF, said: “The return to growth in exports to non-EU markets is welcome news, but it doesn’t make up for the disastrous loss of £2bn in sales to the EU. It clearly demonstrates the serious difficulties manufacturers in our industry continue to face and the urgent need for additional specialist support.

“At the same time, we are seeing labour shortages across the UK's farm-to-fork food and drink supply chain, resulting in empty spaces on UK shop shelves, disruptions to deliveries and decreased production. Unless steps are taken to address these issues, the ability of businesses to fulfil vital export orders will be impacted.”

John Whitehead of the Food & Drink Exporters Association, added: “So many factors continue to impact on the drop in value of UK food and drink exports with supply chain challenges and the inability to connect face to face with customers adding to the difficulties. FDEA’s bespoke support to its member community is a valuable resource to identify new opportunities and accelerate new market entry. It is therefore pleasing to see growth in sales to non-EU countries. However, this in no way replaces the loss of £2.2 billion sales to the EU since 2019. There is growing evidence that the complexity of trading with the EU has led to businesses moving operations into Europe and of importers looking for alternative suppliers, contributing to the ongoing decline in both UK exports and UK jobs.”


Image courtesy Port of Dover

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