Data shows collapse of UK food and drink exports post-Brexit | Food & drink industry


Whisky, cheese and chocolate producers have suffered the biggest post-Brexit export losses in the food and drink sector, new figures from HMRC have shown.

Analysis of the figures by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) shows cheese exports in January plummeted from £45m to £7m year on year, while whisky exports nosedived from £105m to £40m. Chocolate exports went from £41.4m to just £13m, a decline of 68%.

They put the collapse in trade down to a combination of Brexit and weaker demand in Europe where restaurants, hotels and other hospitality outlets remain closed.

Exports of some other goods such as salmon and beef almost stopped altogether with declines of 98% and 92% respectively but by value they were the 7th and 4th biggest losers of the top 10 exports to the EU.

Overall fish, which has seen a complete ban on certain live shellfish, dropped 79%.

The figures come hot on the heels of data from the Office of National Statistics showing trade between the UK and EU had been hit hard in January, with overall exports down by 40.7% in January compared to December.

The FDF said the worst hit trade route was to Ireland losing its place as the single biggest export market for Britain accounting for 5% of the overall trade compared to 18% in January 2020 This chimed with figures issued by Ireland’s Central Statistics Office on Friday

Exports to Germany and Italy were close behind – down 85% and 81% respectively.

Year on year export figures for food and drink for January . Source HMRC, Food and Drink Federation
Year on year export figures for food and drink for January . Source HMRC, Food and Drink Federation Photograph: Food and Drink Federation handout

While pre-Brexit stockpiling and weak hospitality demand during the pandemic will have been a factor, the FDF said “much of” the fall was likely to be due to new non-tariff barriers that have hit smaller producers particularly hard.

“Businesses face significant challenges when trading with the EU and small businesses in particular have been shut out because groupage distribution is not working,” the FDF’s head of international trade, Dominic Goudie, said, referring to a logistics system that previously allowed hauliers to carry small consignments from a variety of sellers.

Office of National Statistics figures released 10 days ago, showed UK exports of goods to the EU plunged by 40.7% in January, the biggest monthly decline in British trade for more than 20 years

The latest HMRC figures show agrifood sector has been one of the hardest hit with new checks and requirements for health certificates a significant barrier to trade.

In January, a commercial cheesemaker in Cheshire said it has been left with a £250,000 hole in its finances because it was no longer financially viable to sell directly to consumers in the EU. Simon Spurrell, managing director of the Cheshire Cheese Company, said business had come to a “dead stop”.

Overall figures now show that food and drink exports collapsed in January, plunging overall by 75.5% year on year. Down to £256m from £1bn.

The government says UK-EU trade has been hit by the pandemic and problems with companies adapting to the new customs rules which it expects to improve with time.