The value of the UK’s food and drink exports to the EU dropped 47% in the first quarter of 2021, according to the country’s industry trade body.

Describing the numbers as “a disaster”, The Food and Drink Federation called on the UK government to provide support to exporters.

Pointing to the “changes in the UK’s trading relationships” and the “ongoing impacts of Covid-19”, the FDF said the value of exports to the EU fell by GBP2bn (US$2.7bn) in the opening quarter of 2021 when compared to the corresponding period of 2019.

Sales to Ireland were down by more than two-thirds, the FDF said, while sales to Germany, Spain and Italy declined by more than half since Q1 2020.

Dominic Goudie, head of international trade at the FDF, said: “The loss of £2bn of exports to the EU is a disaster for our industry, and is a very clear indication of the scale of losses that UK manufacturers face in the longer-term due to new trade barriers with the EU.

“We set out a plan to mitigate these impacts by boosting support for exporters, and this was backed by the Trade and Agriculture Commission. The Government must stop prevaricating and get behind these proposals to help exporters that have been shut out of trading with the EU.”

Comparing the data to the first quarter of 2019, rather than year-on-year, the FDF said the UK’s “top ten” food-and-drink products exported to the EU “fell significantly in value”. It pointed to the value of whisky sales dropping by 32.3% and chocolate by 36.9%.

Year-on-year, comparing the first quarter of 2021 to the opening three months of 2020, the FDF said exports of milk and cream to the EU had “fallen by more than 90%, and exports of cheese by two-thirds in the same time period”.

John Whitehead of The Food & Drink Exporters Association (FDEA), a UK trade body focusing on exporters, said: “Whilst some of this large drop can be put down to end-of-year stockpiling, significant business has been lost as a direct result of the additional bureaucracy, customs delays and costs of trading with the EU. Experienced FDEA members are continuing to battle against inconsistent interpretations of regulations across the EU and having to weigh up whether the time and cost involved is sustainable. We fully support the FDF in pressing Government to boost support for exporters.”