UK food and drink exports to the EU have fallen more than a quarter since 2019 due to the impacts of the pandemic and new Brexit trading arrangements.
Overall sales of UK food and drink are down £2bn compared to pre-Covid levels due mainly to the sharp drop in sales to the EU, according to new figures by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).
Exports to nearly all EU member states have fallen 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.
The loss of UK exports to the EU contributed to reduced demand for EU ingredients for use in UK manufacturing, while import substitution by UK manufacturers and retailers also had an impact.
Imports from the EU are likely to deteriorate further in 2022 after the UK’s full border controls are in place, the FDF explained in its report.
Products of animal original were heavily impacted, with a large fall in imports of pork (-19.6%), cheese (-17.6%) and chicken (-17.9%).
Despite this, sales of UK food and drink to non-EU countries were up 13%, accounting for 47% (£4.3bn) of all UK food and drink exports in the first half of 2021.
This was driven by a return to growth in China, Singapore, Australia, Japan and the Gulf region, an increase which means that non-EU exports are now almost back to pre-Covid levels.
But while the FDF's head of international trade Dominic Goudie said this return to growth in exports to non-EU markets was 'welcome news', it did not 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," he said.
“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.”