Exports of food and drink from the UK to the European Union (EU) fell by £900m in the first half of 2021, compared with the same period in 2020.
The drop was countered only in part by a rise in sales to other countries.
Exports to Ireland alone were down by about £400m between January and the end of June, according to figures analysed by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).
Sales to Germany, Spain and Italy have halved since 2019.
Among the products hardest hit was cheese, with exports to the EU dropping by 26.1% to just over £173m, and beef, which saw a contraction of 24.1% to £145.5m in the first six months of 2021.
Even accounting for an upward shift in exports to non-EU countries, the net impact shows UK exports were 4.5% lower overall compared with 2020, and 17.3% down on pre-Covid levels in 2019.
The ongoing impacts of the pandemic, coupled with the new trading relationship with the EU, are blamed for this significant contraction in trade.
But the newly released set of figures covering the first six months of this year show positive movement on sales to non-EU countries.
These were up by 13% compared with 2020, accounting for 46.6% or £4.3bn, and were driven by a return to growth in China, Singapore, Australia, Japan and the Gulf region.
Sales to some countries in Central and South America had nearly doubled, with the fastest growth in Colombia, Mexico, Chile and Brazil and driven in part by a recovery in whisky exports.
But Dominic Goudie, the FDF’s head of international trade, says this doesn’t make up for what he describes as the disastrous loss of 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,’’ Mr Goudie says.
The FDF predicts that imports from the EU are likely to deteriorate further in 2022 after the UK’s full border controls are in place.
While UK exports to the EU saw a significant drop, this trend was also seen in UK imports from EU countries – the first six months of 2021 saw these fall by 11.2% or nearly £1.7bn, to £13.4bn.
Export and import winners and losers
- Whisky accounted for the biggest rise in exports, up 31.4% to £2bn for the six-month period.
- Exports to China were up more than a quarter, with increased sales of almost £100m
- Exports of cheese and beef to the EU were down by about a quarter because of new challenges facing exporters of products of animal origin
- Some products exported to the EU had shown signs of recovery since 2020, with rises in sales of milk, cream and savoury snacks