The UK exported more food and drink to outside the EU than into it in the first few months after Brexit as exports to the bloc nosedived.
Sales to non-EU countries made up 55% of all UK food and drink exports in the first three months of 2021 compared to less than 40% a year earlier, according to data from the Food and Drink Federation.
However, this is not thanks to any major boom in exports to non-EU countries, which only rose by 0.3%, the group said.
It means that overall exports of food and drink sunk to £3.7 billion from £5.1 billion a year earlier.
“The loss of £2 billion of exports to the EU is a disaster for our industry, and is a very clear indication of the scale of losses that UK manufacturers face in the longer-term due to new trade barriers with the EU,” said the federation’s head of international trade Dominic Goudie.
Some of the drop will be down to EU importers having stockpiled goods from the UK ahead of Brexit, the Food and Drink Exporters Association’s John Whitehead said.
Yet, he said, “significant business has been lost as a direct result of the additional bureaucracy, customs delays and costs of trading with the EU.”
He added: “Experienced FDEA members are continuing to battle against inconsistent interpretations of regulations across the EU and having to weigh up whether the time and cost involved is sustainable. We fully support the FDF in pressing Government to boost support for exporters.”
The hardest hit sector was dairy exporters. Milk and cream exports to the EU dropped more than 90% while cheese exports fell by two-thirds.
Across the three months food and drink exports to Ireland dropped by nearly 71%, while to Portugal they dropped 72% and to Spain by 63%.
Next to this exports to East Asia have risen. To China they grew by 28%, by 19% to South Korea and by 6.2% to Japan.