UK fruit exports to EU slump

London, UK: Fruit exports fell from £248.5m to £113.8m in the year to March 2023, according to the latest data released by HMRC. Brexit is to blame in the form of mandatory health certificates on fresh and chilled food and customs paperwork. Similar barriers have yet to be introduced on imports to the UK, prompting fears that imports of fresh cheese, olive oil and dried meats from Spain and Italy will suffer too.

HMRC data shows that in the year to 31 March 2021, the UK sold £248.5m worth of fruit to the EU but sales figures dropped to £119m the following year, and have remained at that level since, with latest tax data showing sales for the year to March 2023 of £113.8m. Accountancy firm Hazelwoods analysed the figures and blamed a number of factors including the risk to farmers selling fruit, which may end up rotting if delayed by customs or phytosanitary officials in Calais and other EU ports. The accountants also said that, with the delays and extra cost of fruit, retailers in continental Europe were now less likely to buy from the UK and were choosing to import fruit from countries within the bloc.

“Long delays at UK ports are dissuading many fruit farmers from sending their produce abroad,” said Rebecca Copping, a partner at Hazlewoods. “Even double-digit inflation hasn’t been enough to bring the value of fruit exports into the black. This shows just how much damage has been inflicted on the sector.” Analysis of HMRC data showed that the overall value of exports to the EU of food had increased but Hazelwoods said “a large proportion of this increase in value can be attributed to rising inflation in food prices, following the Ukraine crisis”.

Brexit checks on food and animal products from the EU have been delayed four times by the UK government and are due to be phased in at the end of October. There is concern that groupage loads will be especially hard hit. Last week Logistics UK raised concern over the government’s readiness to implement the changes at a meeting with the cabinet minister Lucy Neville-Rolfe.