UK beef imports up, exports down: 2021 trade review

Wednesday, 16 February 2022


During December, the UK imported 23,300 tonnes of fresh and frozen beef, down 9% year-on-year. This brought total imports for 2021 to 241,300 tonnes, up 4% compared to 2020, and close to the quantity imported in 2019 (+1%).

As the year progressed, import volumes generally followed an upward trend compared to 2020, having being significantly lower in the first quarter immediately following the Brexit deadline. As the foodservice market continued to reopen in the UK, and traders worked through new post-Brexit requirements, volumes rose to meet demand. This was also set against a backdrop of lower domestic production.

Looking at products, volumes of boneless fresh beef increased the most in actual terms, while fresh carcases declined, likely to service rising demand from the eating-out market and potentially ease pressure on abattoirs amid COVID-related staff shortages.

The UK imported more beef from both the EU and outside the bloc. In actual terms, Ireland contributed the most to the overall increase in UK import volumes. Notable growth also came from Uruguay, Brazil, Germany and Poland, but from lower bases.

In value terms, an 11% increase in the overall average price of beef imported into the UK took the total value of shipments to £1.05 billion.


For the last month of 2021, the UK exported 10,500 tonnes of fresh and frozen beef, down 5% year-on-year. This brought total exports for the full year to 102,900 tonnes, down 12% compared to 2020.

As with imports, export volumes grew as the year progressed, as trading requirements were worked through and foodservice demand increased on the continent.

Lower volumes sent to the EU drove the overall decline, as the total volume of beef sent elsewhere was relatively unchanged year-on-year. Within EU shipments, the largest declines were in volumes sent to the Netherlands and Ireland. For non-EU exports, more was sent to Iran, the Philippines and the US, but less to Hong Kong.

The overall value of shipments in 2021 fell 5% year-on-year to £364.1 million.

With the full 2021 trade picture now revealed, read our latest beef market outlook for a forward look at our beef trade expectations for the year ahead. 

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