New figures from the Scottish Government reveal that in the first nine months of 2020, Scottish food and drink export sales were down £1.1 billion on the same period in 2019.
In percentage terms, Scottish exports were down by 22.4% year on year.
The contraction in Scottish food exports was seen in all categories except animal feed and live animals, with exports of fish and seafood seeing large decreases (-£112 million) compared to Q1-Q3 2019.
With Brexit yet to fully take its toll on the industry, key export markets including the EU, Asia and North America all showed decreases in food and drink export value. Coronavirus restrictions within markets and hostile tariff arrangements on marquee exports like Scotch whisky have contributed to the loss in value.
James Withers, Chief Executive at Scotland Food & Drink, reacted to the figures, saying: “We have never seen a drop in export sales like this before and it emphasises how horrendous 2020 has been for food and drink exporters in Scotland.
“We now find ourselves mere days away from more potential disruption and losses as the looming threat of Brexit nears.
“It is critical that the Prime Minister and his negotiating team understand just how fragile our food and drink sector is right now. I genuinely fear that without a commitment to support the sector and act immediately, the changes on 1 January will tip some businesses over the edge.
“If negotiations with the EU collapse into a no deal, tariffs will not only wipe out most of our beef and lamb exports, but they will hamper the viability of our biggest export, Scottish seafood, normally worth over £800 million in sales to the EU.
“Even if there is a last-minute deal with the EU, we cannot repeat strongly enough that food businesses, hauliers and border inspection systems are not ready for 1 January. The transition period has been derailed by a global pandemic and haunted by not knowing exactly what we are transitioning to. In a recent survey of our members, 72% said they were unprepared for Brexit.
“A grace period on export checks for has been agreed in recent days for some food products moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That is common sense and welcome, but why will the UK Government not request the same for products moving to the Continent? Especially as they have already said they will waive checks on products coming the other way, from the EU into the UK. Without that agreement, I fear our roads and ports will become gridlocked and many exports effectively blocked.
“A financial aid package to save businesses impacted, through no fault of their own, will also be essential.
“To plough on with the current hard Brexit plans and ignore the impact of Covid-19 on people’s livelihoods will be negligent and exacerbate business failure and job losses.”