The Covid-19 crisis caused an 8% drop in Scottish red meat exports, according to Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).
Figures from the levy body’s annual export survey show overseas sales of Scottish beef, pork, lamb and offal were worth £75.5 million between August 2019 and July 2020 – down 8% on the year before and 2% lower than the five-year average.
“In part, the decline is likely to reflect the near-closure of export markets for a period in mid-to-late March, when published health measures introduced to control Covid-19 led to delays at EU borders and saw export sales destined for the foodservice sector severely disrupted,” said QMS senior economics analyst Iain Macdonald.
“The prolonged closure of the foodservice sector meant that demand remained weak throughout the second quarter of 2020, while increased freight costs reduced the viability of some markets.”
He said the survey showed the Scottish red meat sector’s reliance on trade with Europe – up to 99% of beef and lamb exports and around 80% of offal exports were to European nations last year.
Mr Macdonald said although Scottish red meat exporters had accessed new markets during the year, such as Canada and Japan, trade with non-EU countries would not be enough to offset the loss of trade with Europe if no free trade agreement is reached between the UK and Europe by the start of 2021.
“Scottish exporters have a number of long-standing relationships with EU importers, which would be difficult to replace if significant new barriers to trade were to make them unviable,” he added.
“With thin operating margins in the processing sector, of as little as 2%, export markets are a vital source of additional revenue over and above what can be achieved in the home market, helping to balance the carcase.
“In turn, this supports the amount of money that can be spent procuring livestock from Scotland’s cattle, sheep and pig producers.”
Meanwhile, UK Environment Secretary George Eustice has come under fire for comments he made on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.
Mr Eustice admitted export tariffs for selling lamb to Europe would reduce prices for UK farmers in the short term and he suggested mixed livestock farmers diversify into more beef production if this happens.
National Sheep Association Scottish chairman Jen Craig described his comments as “laughable” and said: “The industry has been calling for support packages to be put in place for compensation for the sheep sector in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
“The Scottish economy relies on the export of lamb. It has never been so important for our industry to be protected.”