But figures released yesterday showed that sales of pork and lamb to Asia and the Middle East grew significantly over the same period.
However, despite double-digit growth in exports to some of these areas, the market analysis department of Agricultural and Horticultural Board had to admit that this failed to offset the drop in shipments to the EU.
Highlighting some silver lining to the massive clouds created by Brexit and the Covid pandemic, Jonathan Eckley, who heads the promotional efforts in these areas with the AHDB said that sales of pig meat, including offal, to Pacific rim countries had risen in both volume and value.
They increased by 31 per cent to 63,000 tonnes, worth over £110 million – up 42 per cent compared to the same period last year.
“Asian markets have once again proven to be hugely important for our exports. While some countries are importing smaller volumes from the UK, the overall value is increasing – for example Singapore, which has this year seen an 87 per cent increase in the value of our pork shipment.”
Sheep exports to non-EU countries, said Eckley, had also risen by 30 per cent in volume and 46 per cent in value, to be worth £6.6 million to the sector – with overall exports, including offall, to Kuwait increasing ten-fold in the first three months of the year.
But he added that due to strong domestic demand in the UK, exports of beef had not grown as strongly as other meats while regions such as the Philippines had seen growth in both volume and value.
Meanwhile, on the domestic market, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) pointed to a strong seasonal upturn in the pig sector, with farm gate prices rising eight per cent from a low point in late February.
“Although pig prices currently remain nine per cent below their level at this time last year, they remain above mid-May levels from 2018 and 2019,” said QMS chief economist, Stuart Ashworth.
Focusing on the value of the export market and trade opportunities, Ashworth said while the UK was only around 66 per cent self-sufficient in pig meat, the fact that some cuts had limited demand in the UK meant that exports continued to play a key part in maximising carcase revenue for pig meat processors alongside the price of imported products.
“The pig meat sector provides an interesting case study for the significance of international trade and the terms and conditions on which they take place,” said Ashworth.
He added this included the measures taken internationally at the border to protect animal health and food safety, as well as measures to limit the spread of human diseases.
He said both the Covid pandemic and recent outbreaks of African Swine Fever had markedly influenced not only demand for product, but also the health status of different countries around the globe, with border restrictions having considerable knock-on consequences for market prices.