Decline in British food exports may be short-lived

The UKā€™s food and drink exports in the first half of 2023 increased by Ā£0.5bn from the same period in 2022 and while that should be good news, inflation has pushed up values, while volumes in almost all our top 10 products fell, with whiskey, beef and pork slipping 20%.

With high inflation impacting most export markets, shoppers have cut back spend on non-essential goods, or have opted for cheaper alternatives, which has hit key exports like British beef, which is a premium product.

The volume of meat exported has ā€œnever recovered to pre-Brexit levelsā€, says British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) which attributes this to added red tape and costs, with SMEs finding exporting to the EU simply unviable.

The alcohol sector has endured similar difficulties with Brexit border issues and softening demand across export markets.

An added challenge for scotch makers are invisible trade barriers, like the 150% import tariff imposed by India, which contributed to a 23% drop in overall exports to the country in H1 2023, though this may change if the UK complete FTA negotiations with India.

The EU still accounts for the lionā€™s share of exports, despite the government striking free trade deals with Australia and New Zealand, and boosting relations with the US, Canada, China and Mexico.

Exports have been hit by price increases, driven by the soaring cost of production and while shipping costs have fallen considerably, they remain above 2021 levels on many trade lanes.

Despite these issues there are signs of a recovery in exports, with improvements in volumes in most of the top categories for Q2 of this year, raising hopes that growth will continue as inflation eases.

China is looking particularly promising, with Q2 exports up nearly a quarter and there was also Q2 growth in Singapore (53.7%), the UAE (7.8%) and Taiwan (17.2%). Food and drink exports to Turkey were up nearly a third to Ā£115m.

The 18.1% drop in exports to Australia in the first six months may in part be due to businesses waiting for the new FTA, which came in at the end of May and full-year data could tell a different story.

In alcohol, there is optimism for a pick-up of sales in overseas markets, with the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) planning to take members to Singapore and South Korea on an export trade mission, with emerging markets like Taiwan and China key to future exports growth as consumer spending recovers.

For meat, the picture is more difficult to predict and will depend on how closely the government is willing to work with the EU, with the food industry calling for the government to look at an SPS alignment with the EU to resolve trade friction.

Since our inception in 1981 Metro has crafted multi-modal export supply chains to help UK exporters optimise existing and break into new EU and international markets, for multiple verticals including food, retail, fashion, automotive, electronics, chemicals, industrial, and manufacturing. 

Metroā€™s automated CuDoS declaration platform and dedicated team of customs experts, react swiftly to any changes in the UKā€™s trading regimes, with brokerage and regulatory compliance solutions designed specifically for the import and export of food and drink.

To learn how we can simplify and automate customs declarations for your business, please EMAIL Andy Fitchett, Brokerage Manager, to review the options.