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UK food and drink exports to non-EU countries have risen above pre-pandemic levels according to the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

The FDF’s Trade Snapshot reports exports to non-EU countries were up 16.2% a record £2.3bn in Q1 2022, 10.7% higher than for the same period in 2019.

Australia, Canada, India, Japan and the US all saw trade from the UK above pre-pandemic levels, reports The Grocer.

EU exports

Food and drink exports to the EU remain larger at £3bn but continue to flag below pre-Brexit and pre-pandemic levels, with the Q1 2022 figure 17.3% lower than the 2019 equivalent. However, it was up 45% on Q1 2021.

During Q1 2022, exports rose in 16 of the UK’s top 20 markets for food and drink exports, with only Saudi Arabia, China, Singapore and Hong Kong exempt.

Overall, food and drink exports in Q1 2022 totalled £5.3bn, 7% down on the same period in 2019, Bloomberg reports.

Exports of beef were up 80% year on year, and those of whisky, the UK’s single-biggest food and drink export, were up almost 40% on 2019 to £1.2bn. Exports of chocolate (£201.5m) and gin (£164.1m) were the next biggest export categories.

Return to growth

Farming UK reports the increase in exports follow a turbulent two years for food exports due to the impacts caused by both Brexit and Covid-19, with 2021 sales down 13% on 2019 and 4% on 2020.

With the UK-Japan trade agreement coming into force in 2021, and others on the horizon including Australia and New Zealand, the FDF says it expects further growth in food and drink exports.

A key priority for the sector remains improving the implementation of the UK-EU trade agreement, the report says.

Better market access

The FDF says it should be a priority of the government to secure improved market access for UK exporters of cheese to Canada.

Exports to Canada rose by more than a quarter compared to before the pandemic, with exports of fish growing nearly fivefold over that period, and beef exports nearly doubling.

Sales to India, considered a key market with a growing middle class, also rose over a fifth compared to 2019, led by bakery ingredients and gin.

Spread the risk

Nicola Thomas, Food and Drink Exporters Association director, told Agriland that a sales portfolio spanning multiple global markets made businesses potentially less vulnerable to changes in the UK economy or any one market.

“Such strong growth highlights how with widespread economic and political instability around the world, a renewed focus on exporting is a crucial risk-mitigation strategy for UK Food and Drink companies in 2022,” she said.

UK exports to the EU have been subject to checks at ports on the continent since 2021. Representatives of the seafood and meat sectors have said they’ve been further curtailed by the lack of a veterinary deal between the UK and EU, reports the Grocer.

Food imports

The FDF’s Q1 2022 numbers showed the UK’s five biggest sources of imported food to be EU member states, with the Netherlands top of the list, in part due to the Port of Rotterdam’s role as a staging point for UK imports coming from other continents. France, Spain, Belgium and Ireland were the others in the top five.

On 28 April, HM Government announced that import controls on EU goods would not be required until at least the end of 2023, instead of 1 July this year as planned.