UK food and drink exports have fallen by nearly 12 percent, new figures show, raising fears that firms are facing an 'immense dilemma' with both the end of the transition period and the pandemic.
In the third quarter of 2020 alone, exports fell by 11.6 percent to £5.5 billion when compared to the same period in 2019.
UK food and drink exports to the European Union (-9.3 percent) and non-EU markets (-14.8 percent) declined.
In the first nine months to September 2020, exports fell to £15.2bn (-12.9%) when compared to the same period in 2019.
Exports to the majority of the top 20 markets decreased, the Food and Drink Federation's (FDF) figures show, with sales to Spain falling significantly by -33.8%.
This decrease was largely driven by the impacts of Covid-19, the FDF says, including the closure of hospitality and travel sectors, which has meant a loss of sales into restaurants and bars.
And as the UK approaches the end of the transition period, the EU remains 'a key commercial partner', with over 60% of food and drink exports heading to EU markets.
Within the top five products exported to the EU, whisky sales suffered the most, experiencing a reduction of 19% to £901.4m from January to September.
“The continued decline in exports in the third quarter of 2020 shows the immense dilemma that UK food and drink exporters are currently facing," said Dominic Goudie, head of international trade at FDF.
"With less than one month to go, businesses are still in the dark about what arrangements will be in place following the end of the transition period in January 2021."
Ireland was the top EU destination for exports, making up almost 30% of overall sales in the EU, reflecting the close integration of UK and Irish food and drink supply chains, the FDF explains.
It says that maintaining these highly integrated supply chains across Britain, Ireland and Northern Ireland will be essential for future growth in the industry.
Graham Hutcheon, chair of the Food and Drink Sector Council Exports Working Group, said more specialist support was urgently needed.
“Our industry has experienced a substantial drop in exports in 2020 largely due to the impacts of Covid-19, after a decade or more of continuous growth," he added.
"With the end of the transition period now just days away, food and drink businesses are facing another massive export challenge."