Brexit reaction: ‘grim’ food and drink export statistics show EU trade collapse

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released figures that show the damage Brexit has caused to the country’s food and drink exporters, with EU-bound consignments for January 2021 down 63% compared to the previous year.


Fundamentally important sectors within the food and drink industry for Scotland were among the hardest hit. Fish and shellfish, Scotland’s largest food export category, was down by a crippling 83%.


The meat and dairy sectors also reported a dramatic fall in EU exports with falls of 59% and 50% respectively.


James Withers, Chief Executive of Scotland Food & Drink, said:


“There is no sugar-coating these statistics, they are grim. We know Covid has reduced demand and there was stockpiling of products before the end of the year, however, right at the heart of this trade collapse is Brexit and the creation of huge, new, non-tariff trade barriers with our biggest export market.

“This simply can’t be talked away as a Covid issue. The crash in UK trade has not been seen in sales to non-EU markets, despite it being a global pandemic. Also, we did not see a fall like this at any point during the first lockdown.

“The financial damage to our seafood industry is particularly stark. A fall of over 80% in what is the UK’s biggest food export has brought a crisis to a sector reeling from the worst trading year in memory. You can’t stockpile fresh fish and shellfish, so that has not been a factor at all in these figures.

“I do expect to see an uplift in the February and March figures, but the trade barriers now created are real and costly. The so-called teething problems still with us and have cost the industry tens of millions so far. This has to act as a catalyst to open negotiations with the EU to recognise aligned food standards and reduce the red tape burden. Without that, these trade figures will never recover to anything like the levels before. EU supply chains will permanently restructure, and UK businesses and jobs will lose out.

“Of course, getting the EU to the table may now be much more difficult given that none of our EU counterparts will feel any real border friction until the end of the year. They will enjoy a grace period on border checks so wrongly denied to UK exporters. The Brexit dividend thus far has turned out to be a huge competitive disadvantage for Scottish food exporters.”

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