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UK food and drink sales to non-EU countries back to pre-pandemic levels

Posted: 2 September 2021 | | No comments yet

With trading difficulties with EU continuing, UK exports to non-EU countries have flourished and have almost returned to levels seen before the onset of the pandemic.

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Sales of UK food and drink to non-EU countries were up 13 percent, accounting for 46.6 percent (£4.3bn) of all UK food and drink exports in the first half of 2021, driven by a return to growth in China, Singapore, Australia, Japan and the Gulf region. The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) 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 the first half of 2020. The fastest growing major export markets in the region were Colombia (+142.6 percent), Mexico (+111.2 percent), Chile (+105.4 percent) and Brazil (+87.2 percent). 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-Covid levels, because of a sharp drop in sales to the EU. The FDF says a combination of the ongoing impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, and new barriers to trade resulting from the new trading arrangements, have led to a fall in exports to the EU of more than a quarter since H1 2019. Exports to nearly all EU member states fell significantly, including a loss of more than £0.5bn in sales to Ireland, while sales to Germany, Spain and Italy are each down around a half since H1 2019.

UK imports of food and drink were down nearly 10 percent in the first half of 2021 compared to pre-Covid levels, however imports from non-EU markets increased during this period. Imports from the EU were particularly badly impacted by the pandemic and the new trading relationship, falling nearly 15 percent since 2019, a loss of £2.4bn.

“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,” said Dominic Goudie, Head of International Trade at the FDF.

“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.”

“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,” added John Whitehead, Food & Drink Exporters Association (FDEA).

“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.”

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