Brexit nearly halves exports to Ireland

Trade took a hit from both new border checks and paperwork due to Brexit, and coronavirus shutdowns. Photo: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

Trade took a hit from both new border checks and paperwork due to Brexit, and coronavirus shutdowns. Photo: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

Exports to Ireland saw the biggest proportionate fall out of the UK’s top exporting parters following the end of the Brexit transition period in January. 

Exports of goods to Ireland fell by £1bn ($ 1.4bn) (47.3%) between December 2020 and January 2021, while imports from Ireland fell by a lesser £100m (4.4%), new data from the Office for National Statistics showed.

Stockpiling particularly of food and chemicals likely took place in Ireland in the months leading up to the end of the transition period, as firms prepared for trade difficulties. 

Total exports to Ireland in December 2020 were 21.1% higher than December 2019. Exports of chemicals to Ireland in December 2020 had risen to £600m, increasing by 33.5% compared with the previous year, before falling to £100m in January 2021.

In addition to the impact of stockpiling, goods faced new checks when moving from Great Britain to Ireland since January 2021. 

These checks, as part of the Northern Ireland Protocol, have caused delays at the Great Britain and Northern Ireland border. 

Results from the Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS) show that, of currently trading businesses that have exported in the last 12 months, 38% have reported additional paperwork as a challenge to exporting since February 2021. This has remained stable through to April 2021.

Meanwhile, the UK has imported more goods from China than from any other country since the second quarter (April to June) of 2020. 

Imports of goods from China accounted for 16.1% of UK goods imports in Q1 2021 having increased by 65.6% compared with Q1 2018, exhibiting a larger increase than exports, the ONS said. 

Goods imports from China have continued to show an upward trend throughout 2020.

Read more: Historic post-Brexit shift as UK’s EU imports overtaken by rest of the world

The data, measuring the impact on trade in 2021, also showed that total trade in goods from non-EU countries exceeded those from EU countries in the first quarter of 2021. 

Total trade in goods with EU countries decreased by 23.1% and with non-EU countries decreased by 0.8% comparing the first quarter of 2021 with the same quarter in 2018.

Chart: ONS

Chart: ONS

Alongside complications and new paperwork related to Brexit slowing the movement of goods, COVID-19 has also contributed to a decline in trade. 

The early impact of the pandemic seen in quarter 1 last year disproportionately affected exports to the United States, and are aligned with decreases seen across non-EU countries.

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