According to the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), sales of UK food and drinks to non-EU countries were up 13%, accounting for 46.6% (£4.3 billion) of all UK food and drinks exports in the first half of 2021, driven by a return to growth in China, Singapore, Australia, Japan, and the Gulf region.
This increase means non-EU exports are now almost back to pre-COVID-19 levels.
Sales to some countries in other non-EU markets, including in Central and South America, have doubled since the first half of 2020, the FDF added.
The fastest growing major export markets in this region were Colombia (+142.6%), Mexico (+111.2%), Chile (+105.4%), and Brazil (+87.2%).
This increase has been driven by a recovery in sales of whiskey and vegetable oils, supported by an increased demand for other UK products.
Impact Of Brexit
Despite the return to growth in these countries, overall sales of UK food and drinks dropped by £2 billion compared to pre-COVID-19 levels, following a sharp drop in sales to the EU.
A combination of the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and new barriers to trade resulting from the new trading arrangements have led exports to the EU to decline by more than a quarter since 2019.
Exports to nearly all EU member states fell significantly, including a loss of more than £0.5 billion in sales to Ireland. Sales to Germany, Spain, and Italy have dropped to half since the first half of 2019.
UK imports of food and drinks were also down nearly 10% in the first half of 2021 compared to pre-COVID-19 levels, however imports from non-EU markets increased during this period.
Imports from the EU were particularly impacted by the pandemic and the new trading relationship following Brexit, falling nearly 15% since 2019, equivalent to a loss of £2.4 billion.
The loss of UK exports to the EU contributed to reduced demand for EU ingredients in UK manufacturing, while import substitution by UK manufacturers and retailers also had an impact.
Products of animal original were heavily impacted, with a large fall in imports of pork (-19.6%), cheese (-17.6%), and chicken (-17.9%).
Imports from the EU are likely to deteriorate further in 2022 after the UK’s full border controls are in place, the FDF added.
Dominic Goudie, head of international trade at the FDF, said, "The return to growth in exports to non-EU markets is welcome news, but it doesn’t make up for the disastrous loss of £2 billion in sales to the EU. It clearly demonstrates the serious difficulties manufacturers in our industry continue to face and the urgent need for additional specialist support."
Goudie added that the FDF has observed "labour shortages across the UK's farm-to-fork food and drinks supply chain, resulting in empty spaces on UK shop shelves, disruptions to deliveries and decreased production. Unless steps are taken to address these issues, the ability of businesses to fulfil vital export orders will be impacted."