Thursday, 18 March 2021
As of January 2021 data, the way HMRC collects trade data has changed, which will be reflected in the trade statistics. Comparisons between this and historic data should be treated with caution, and may well be subject to future revisions.
UK exports of pig meat (including offal) fell markedly in January, according to data from HMRC. Volumes fell by over 40% compared with a year ago to only 17,800 tonnes. This was driven overwhelmingly by a fall in exports to the EU, which were only 4,750 tonnes, a reduction of 10,000 tonnes (-69%) year on year. This data supports widespread reports of disruption due to increased administrative requirements, and inspections at EU ports.
It’s worth noting that a year on year comparison of January’s trade figure also includes any effects of COVID-19, which has been suppressing pork exports to the EU since March. Also, pig meat was not the only product affected. However, it would appear that some pig meat exporters shipped increased volumes in the later months of 2020. This could have been in anticipation of difficulties or the possibility of tariffs in the New Year and would offset some of January’s losses.
We know that those attempting to export face an increased administrative burden, but we don’t know how many of them deferred exports until the processes became clearer. It may also take some time to establish how much trade is lost longer term, from companies that no longer find it profitable to export at all.
Perhaps surprisingly, imports of pig meat from the EU followed a broadly similar pattern, despite the lower level of scrutiny at the UK border. Volumes fell by 24,000 tonnes (-35%) year on year, to only 43,700 tonnes in January. Again, it is possible to see in the data just how much COVID-19 dominated trade flows throughout 2020.
Looking at the data more widely across other agricultural products, there are some inconsistencies between UK trade figures and those reported by our trading partners. With this in mind, this initial release of trade figures should be viewed with some caution. It is possible that we might see some revisions in the coming months, and so we will revisit January trade data in future releases.
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