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Alcohol exports plummet

Published:  05 May, 2021

Alcohol exports from the UK to the EU were in free fall for the first couple of months of this year, hit by the perfect storm of Brexit at the beginning of the year alongside Covid lockdowns across Europe continuing to shatter the on-trade, newly released data has revealed.

By far the largest of Britain’s alcoholic drinks exports, spirits sent to the EU dropped 32% to £178m compared with the same period last year, according to the latest HMRC data covering January and February 2021. 

The picture for wine, the UK’s second biggest alcoholic drinks export, was even worse, down 60% to £12.1m, while beer exports to the EU fell 28% to £15.4m in the same period.

For much of the world, the comparison to 2020 is very much pre-Covid and the lockdowns on hospitality, particularly throughout the EU, make it difficult to determine the extent to which the drop in exports is Brexit-related, but no doubt the UK’s exit from the EU has played a part. 

“Many hospitality venues across the EU have been subject to the same restrictive lockdowns as here in the UK, which will inevitably lead to some reduction in demand,” said Miles Beale, CEO of The Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA).  

But, he adds, red tape, supply chain disruption and continued uncertainty and delayed rule changes associated with post-1 January trading “must be factored in too”. 

As a result, the WSTA is continuing to call on the government to help Britain “build back better by cutting unnecessary and burdensome red tape – of which there is plenty – as well as supporting exporters more actively”, said Beale. 

Echoing this, Nicholas Cook, director general of The Gin Guild, said it was “quite clear” that the “promised so-called frictionless trade agreement was nothing of the case”, with companies exporting and importing to Europe, and to and from Northern Ireland, all reporting “time-consuming, complex logistical difficulties”, with gin exports to the EU down 25% alone.  

“Hopefully exports of gin to Europe will remain high, and we will not look back on 2019 as the peak of the gin renaissance and rue the entirely unnecessary and predictable loss of easy access to this major market,” he said.

On a more positive note, UK alcohol exports to outside the EU were looking much healthier, with beer the only of the three categories to report a drop – down 10% to £42m.   

Non-EU spirit exports meanwhile were up 3% to £489m, while 2% growth to £46.9m was recorded for non-EU wine exports. 

“It’s encouraging to see exports of both wines and spirits to non-EU countries have increased,” said Beale. 

“This positive momentum must be maintained – the political will to secure Free Trade Agreements with our key non-EU trading partners, like the US and Australia, can help promote British exports of our world-leading wines and spirits further still.”