Irish beef continues to dominate UK imports, accounting for 79% or 79,148t out of the 99,937t total UK beef imports for the first half of 2021.

This is 10,559t less than for the first half of 2021, and accounts for the entire overall drop in UK beef imports in the first half of 2021 compared with the same period in 2020.

Overall beef imports from the EU are down 11% to 96,501t compared with 108,376t for the first half of 2020.

The UK imported just 3,437t of beef from outside the EU in the first half of 2021, 1,151t of which was from Uruguay and 1,049t from Brazil.

Bigger change in exports

UK beef exports to the EU have fallen by 30.5% in the first half of 2021 compared to 2020, according to AHDB, the levy board for England.

Volumes have fallen from 44,426t to 30,868t for exports to the EU whereas volumes exported outside the EU have fallen from 15,904 in the first half of 2020 to 14,443 this year, a 9.2% decline.

The bigger drop in exports to the EU than outside the EU suggests that Brexit is having some impact on the UK trade.

However, it is also necessary to note that the volume of British beef available for export is down because 5% fewer cattle were processed in the first half of the year.

Another factor that may be contributing to the drop in exports is the fact that the UK is currently the highest-value beef market in Europe, so processors are able to sell more of the carcase better in the home market than in export markets.

Brexit effect

Notwithstanding the other issues, the biggest change in 2021 has been the Brexit effect. It has had no meaningful impact so far on beef imports to the UK because they will not begin implementing UK border controls until 1 October.

The EU on the other hand imposed full border controls on UK exports from 1 January. This meant British exporters faced an unfamiliar system and while larger exporters found a way of coping with the change, smaller exporters tended to drop out.

It will be around the same time next year when it will be possible to judge the impact of UK border controls on beef imports to the EU. Ireland as the biggest beef exporter to the UK is the country most exposed to this change.

Trade deals

Longer-term, Ireland’s dominant position as the top supplier of imported beef to the UK is under threat from the trade deals the UK is making as non-EU members.

A deal has already been concluded with Australia, and another one with New Zealand is expected shortly.

Uruguay was the top supplier of imported beef to the UK from outside the EU in the first half of 2021, and the UK Ambassador indicated recently that a trade was possible with them also. Present performance of Irish beef exports to the UK market is no guarantee of future success.