Data on trade between the UK and European Union painted a mixed picture for the health of imports and exports, with month-on-month figures between January 2021 and February showing trade was up by 20%.
That's according to data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Tuesday morning.
Trade was, however, still lower than it was in previous years, with a drop of 12% in February this year versus last year for EU trade and a drop of 1% over the same period for global trade.
Imports and exports had been hampered by administrative confusion following the end of the Brexit transition period in January this year. Many firms had stockpiled to mitigate tailbacks and delays.
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Businesses have complained of huge disruption as a result of Brexit. Manufacturers union Make UK in April said three quarters of its members had experienced delays exporting since the turn of the year, while the Institute of Directors said that 1 in 5 of its members had given up on trying to export to the EU.
In addition to the changes facing the UK after the transition period ended, England joined the rest of the UK in another national lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus at the beginning of January 2021, which continued through February.
Despite these factors, exports of goods to the EU, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, partially rebounded in February 2021, increasing by £3.7bn ($5.1bn) (46.6%) after a record fall of £5.7bn (negative 42.0%) in January.
The government said that increases in exports to the EU in February 2021 were driven by machinery and transport equipment, and chemicals, particularly cars and medicinal and pharmaceutical products.
Imports of goods from the EU, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, showed a weaker increase of £1.2bn (7.3%) in February 2021 after a record fall of £6.7bn (negative 29.7%) in January.
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Agricultural and food exports to the EU were still hard hit, when comparing with 2020 levels, with meat sinking 52%, eggs and dairy down 39%, fish and shellfish down 54% and sugar down 49%.
The total trade deficit, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, narrowed by £2.1bn to £6.3bn in the three months to February 2021; imports decreased by £5.7 billion (negative 3.8%), while exports decreased by £3.6bn (negative 2.5%).
Trade in services imports and exports have consistently remained at a lower level since Q2 2020 as services accounts such as travel and transport trade continue to be affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions.
Last month, data from the Food and Drink Federation showed that exports of fish and meat from the UK to the EU had seen a dramatic dip in January compared with the previous year, compounding the chaos following the end of the Brexit transition period.
The group said among the hardest hit export foodstuffs were salmon, which saw a 98% dip from the year earlier; beef, which fell by 91.5%; and cheese which also declined 85.1%.
The UK's export market suffered a fall of £750m ($1bn) — a total 75.5% decline from the previous January, the FDF said.
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