Shipping yard

No-deal stockpiling boosted food and drink exports to a record high last year as two Brexit deadlines encouraged foreign buyers to stock up on British goods, official figures show.

Exports of some the UK’s most popular goods abroad – including scotch whisky, chocolate and beer – all surged by at least 20% in the month prior to each deadline [HMRC].

It helped lift non-EU exports by 9% from the previous year, with countries prioritised for future free trade agreements – including China, Japan and New Zealand – all experiencing double-digit growth.

EU markets, meanwhile, grew just 2% on 2018.

But despite the surge in global markets beyond Europe, overall growth was pegged back by the introduction of new tariffs by the US government in October in retaliation for illegal EU subsidies to airline manufacturer Airbus.

The US remains the UK’s largest foreign market, but the new tariffs left many American buyers hesitant. Scotch whisky exports fell by 25% in the final three months of the year, against the same period last year.

The Scotch Whisky Association said the ongoing tariffs were “very concerning”.

CEO Karen Betts said many distillers were “now asking themselves how they can continue exporting to the US, whether they can build up alternative markets … and if not, how their businesses will cope”.

Coronavirus, meanwhile, is threatening exports to Asian markets. The figures released this week reveal exports to Asia grew by 11% on the previous year, though businesses are increasingly concerned this could now change.

“At a time when we really hoped Asian markets would be growing, there’s a huge barrier that’s come along,” said Elsa Fairbanks, director at the Food & Drink Exporters Association.

“For food and drink exporters it’s going to be a difficult time for them.”