The £2.4bn fall caused the drop in exports of perishable goods due to costs and red tape.
The price of food exports to the EU fell by £2.4bn in the first 15 months after Brexit, based on analysis of HMRC data. However, overall exports, which were hurt by the reduced demand in hospitality due to the pandemic last year as well as the crisis of Brexit red tape, picked up in the first quarter of the year, the figures show.
Data tracking exports from January 1, 2021, when the Brexit transition year ended, show UK food exports fell by 19% to £10.4bn in the 15 months to 31 March 2022. This dropped from £12.8bn in the past 15 months, as per the review of the detailed commodity data by Hazlewoods chartered accountancy firm.
The drop was caused by a decrease in exports of perishable goods, from British cheese to strawberries. Fruit and vegetable exports suffered the biggest loss, down 44 percent from £1.5bn in the 15 months prior to Brexit to £847m in the 15 months after.
Fish and meat exports dropped 16%, from £3.5bn to £2.9bn, over the same period, while dairy exports also fell 13% from £1.6bn to £1.4bn.
Long port delays and tightening custom requirements mean most UK food producers are no longer able to export perishable goods to the European Union. The increase in costs and red tapes mean it can be very tough to turn a profit exporting fresh produce. Rebecca Copping, associate partner at Hazlewoods:
“For an industry where the UK can justifiably call itself a world leader, that is a real shame.”
The figures agree with those of Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU. Eurostat figures place overall imports to the EU from the UK dropping from €169bn (£144bn) in 2021 to €146bn last year – a decline of 13.6%.
Notably, the UK’s decision to choose a hard Brexit with the departure from the single market means customs announcements and proof of standards compliance are now needed on all commodities going into the bloc.
HMRC’s official commentary on the first three months of data shows that exporters are adjusting their operations to the new barriers. In the first quarter of this year, exports to the Republic of Ireland surged by 67% while exports to the Netherlands climbed by 40% and France by 28.5%.
The jump in export to Ireland and the Netherlands could be tied to the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis, with a 50% month-on-month surge in March in exports of mineral fuels to those countries.
HMRC said in its monthly commentary:
“The increase in exports of mineral fuels last month was led by the Netherlands and Ireland, up £327m (50%) and £23m (62%) respectively. The increase on March 2021 was also led by the Netherlands and Ireland, up £548m (to more than double the value) and £435m (to more than three times the value) respectively.”