The value of food exports to the EU dropped by £2.4bn in the first 15 months after Brexit, according to analysis of HMRC data.
However, overall exports, which were hit by the double whammy of Brexit red tape as well as decreased demand in hospitality due to the pandemic in 2021, recovered in the first three months of this year, the figures show.
Data tracking exports since 1 January 2021, when the Brexit transition year ended, show UK food exports dropped by 19% to £10.4bn in the 15 months to 31 March 2022.
This was down from £12.8bn in the previous 15 months, according to the review of the detailed commodity data by Hazlewoods chartered accountancy firm.
The fall was driven by a decline in exports of perishable goods, from British strawberries to cheese.
Fruit and vegetable exports took the greatest hit, down 44% from £1.5bn in the 15 months before Brexit to £847m in the 15 months after.
Meat and fish exports fell 16%, from £3.5bn to £2.9bn, over the same period, while dairy exports also decreased 13% from £1.6bn to £1.4bn.
Tightening custom requirements and long port delays mean many UK food producers are no longer able to send perishable goods to the EU. The increase in red tape and costs means it can be very difficult to make a profit exporting fresh produce.
“For an industry where the UK can justifiably call itself a world leader, that is a real shame,” said Rebecca Copping, associate partner at Hazlewoods.
The figures chime with those of Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU.
Eurostat figures put overall imports to the EU from the UK falling from €169bn (£144bn) in 2020 to €146bn in 2021 – a drop of 13.6%.
The UK’s decision to opt for a hard Brexit with the departure from the single market means customs declarations and evidence of standards compliance is now required on all commodities entering the bloc.
HMRC official commentary on the first three months of data indicates that exporters are adapting their operations to the new barriers.
In the first three months of 2022, exports to the Republic of Ireland jumped by 67% while exports to France rose by 28.5% and the Netherlands 40%.
The increase in export to the Netherlands and Ireland could be linked to the energy crisis and the war in Ukraine, with a 50% month-on-month jump in March in exports of mineral fuels to those countries.
HMRC said in its monthly commentary: “The increase in exports of mineral fuels on 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.”