EU Exit: food trade with the EU contracted sharply in Q1 2021

Date : 18 May 2021

Provisional trade data is now available for the first 3 months of 2021. These charts look at trade in food, drink and tobacco, between the UK and the EU, comparing Q4 2020 (pre- EU Exit) to Q1 2021 (post- EU Exit).

Trade in both directions fell sharply in Q1 – worst in January, less severe in February and March - with exports being especially affected. The data may be revised later but, in the meantime, it raises a number of questions.

First, trade in both directions has been affected, even though border changes so far have been asymmetrical – UK changes affecting food imports were limited in Q1. 

Second, all major food and drink categories have been affected to some degree, even though they are affected differently by EU Exit.

Third, in spite of the downturn in trade, there is little evidence of large-scale shortages impacting either food retail or foodservice.

This might be explained by business stockpiling in late 2020 – which indeed appears to have happened – but stockpiles could not have lasted over such a long period, especially for fresh items. 

It is also possible that availability in retail outlets is being supported by reduced demand from foodservice and by the reduction in export traffic.

Provisional trade data chart
Click to enlarge chart

Provisional trade data chart
Click to enlarge chart

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