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3 minute read - 1st June 2022

UK food and drink trade tops pre-pandemic levels

Exports and imports of food and drink with non-EU countries have soared above pre-pandemic levels for the first time, according to research by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

The FDF’s Trade Snapshot examines the latest developments in the UK’s exports and imports of food and drink in the first quarter of 2022. Key findings from the report show that food and drink imports have recovered well, and are over 13% higher than in 2019, while exports to major markets including the USA, Australia, Canada, Japan and the UAE exceeded pre-pandemic levels.

In addition, Canada is a key source of ingredients used by UK manufacturers and saw imports rise 5%, while exports to the country saw particularly strong growth, up 26% on pre-pandemic levels. Exports to India are up more than 25% compared to pre-pandemic levels, and they remain a large import partner – particularly for agricultural goods – accounting for £172.5m.

Exports and imports of food and drink with non-EU countries have soared above pre-pandemic levels for the first time, according to research by the Food and Drink Federation / Picture: Getty/iStock

With the UK-Japan trade agreement coming into force in 2021, and others on the horizon including Australia and New Zealand, FDF says it expects even further growth in food and drink exports. Both Canada and India are currently in negotiations with the UK government over free trade deals and represent major export opportunities.

The trade body highlighted that it should be a priority to secure improved market access for UK exporters of cheese to Canada and also hope the deal can deliver improved border checks. India’s rapidly growing middle class presents major opportunities for UK exporters. Demand is booming in the country in the health, organic, fortified and ready-to-eat packaged food sector.

With the UK government determined to improve the performance of food and drink on the global stage, a key priority for the sector remains improving the implementation of the UK-EU trade agreement. One unknown remains the impact of the war in Ukraine, with rising energy prices and supplies of certain key ingredients – including vegetable oils, cereals and white fish – being strained, all of which are vital for many importers.

Dominic Goudie, head of international trade and the Food and Drink Federation, said: “Trade plays a key role in boosting the UK economy, with high exports ensuring food and drink companies can thrive and imports offering shoppers in the UK a wide range of quality products at prices they can afford. This is particularly important now, at a time of soaring costs to businesses and consumers, that the UK utilises trade as deflationary weapon.”

Nicola Thomas, director at the Food & Drink Exporters Association, added: “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. Having a sales portfolio spanning multiple global markets not only makes a business potentially less vulnerable to changes in the UK economy, but any losses caused by a crisis or stagnation in one country or region also stand a much better chance of being balanced out by a presence in others.”

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