Calls for UK to improve relations with EU after food and drink exports plummet | Food & drink industry

UK food and drink exports fell by 16% in the first nine months of 2021, according to industry figures that revealed the devastating impact of Brexit and the pandemic on the value of trade.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said the sector’s exports declined by £2.7bn between January and September compared with pre-pandemic levels, a drop it blamed largely on a 24% decrease in sales to EU countries.

Labour said the decline in sales to the 27 member states would harm the UK’s ability to create well-paid jobs in export industries, adding that the decrease also undermined the government’s claim of improving Britain’s global trade ambitions.

Dominic Goudie, the FDF’s head of international trade, said it was essential ministers worked constructively with the EU to improve relations, “otherwise this downturn will be here to stay”.

Food manufacture is one of Britain’s biggest employers and the largest single manufacturing sector, ahead of carmaking and the chemical industry.

Exports of food and drink to Germany fell 44.5%, and by 43.3% to Italy. Exports to Spain were especially hard hit, more than halving (50.6%).

The FDF said global exports of whisky and salmon started to recover this year, with sales of both products up 21% compared with 2020. All other major products, including beef, cheese and pork were down, falling 18.4%, 13.2% and 5.7% respectively.

Non-EU markets racked up healthy percentage gains, though from a much lower base than exports to the EU. Demand for UK goods in China and Taiwan pushed their growth rates to above 20%, while exports to Japan were up 10.6% and those to Singapore rose 5.4%.

The FDF said imports were also badly hit, with sales from the EU down nearly 11% in the nine months to September compared with pre-Covid levels. The £2.5bn fall affected the Netherlands, Ireland and Germany the most.

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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 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.”

“They need government to clear the obstacles and help them take advantage of new opportunities,” he added.

Gareth Thomas, the shadow minister for international trade, said: “Ministers need to accelerate support to food and drink exporters to reverse this decline in sales to France, Germany and other European countries otherwise we risk seeing others take long-term trade opportunities away from British businesses putting good jobs and firms at risk.

“Sorting out urgently a veterinary agreement, putting long-term solutions in place for the supply chain crisis including on HGV drivers, and helping more firms navigate new customs rules are essential.”

The government was contacted for comment.