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UK fruit exports to EU have dropped by more than half since Brexit

Exports of fruit from the UK to the EU, including traditional English apples and pears, have more than halved since Brexit, according to data released by HMRC.

The decline has been put down to the introduction of trade barriers caused by the UK’s departure from the EU, including mandatory health certificates on fresh and chilled food and customs paperwork.


Similar barriers have yet to be introduced on imports to the UK, causing recent concern about the threat to future imports of some of British diners’ favourites, including fresh cheese, olive oil and dried meats from Spain and Italy.


HMRC data shows that the barriers, in place since 2021, are already biting on the UK-to-EU side of the Brexit ledger.


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 next year, and have remained at that level since, with latest tax data showing sales for the year to March 2023 of £113.8m.


The chartered accountancy firm Hazelwoods, which analysed the figures, blamed a number of factors including the risk to farmers who are selling fruit, which may end up rotting if delayed by customs or phytosanitary officials in Calais and other EU ports.


But they 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 other 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.


“For a nation with an historic reputation for producing high-quality fruit, it’s a shame that red-tape is making it harder for farmers to export their wares.”


“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”.


The different approach taken by the EU and the UK to checks has been the source of tension between the government and the British horticulture sector, with farming bosses accusing the government of giving European suppliers an unfair advantage over domestic producers.


Brexit checks on food and animal products including unpasteurised cheese from the EU have been delayed four times by the British government and are due to start being phased in at the end of October.


Last week Logistics UK, which represents cargo and freight owners, raised concern over the government’s readiness to implement the changes at a meeting with the cabinet minister Lucy Neville-Rolfe.


“Logistics UK and its members support the UK’s 2025 border strategy but remain concerned that there is still much to be done,” said Nichola Mallon, Logistics UK’s head of trade.


They told her they were particularly concerned about trucks carrying produce from multiple suppliers, a practice known as groupage.


Under the rules, a lorry could be stopped if just one supplier did not provide the correct paperwork, meaning the entire load could be delayed.


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