The US, China and Mexico dominate as global exporters
The US, China and Mexico dominate as global exporters

Credit:
Kerry Squires/The Telegraph


Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are locked in Brexit negotiations that may lead to the UK remaining in a customs union and unable to strike-up trade deals with the rest of the world.

A new Telegraph analysis has revealed the UK currently does very little trade with some of the world’s largest exporters of major food products, instead importing more than 70 per cent of its food stuffs from the EU in 2017.

You can use our tool below to see who the biggest non-EU exporters are for a range of different food products. The tool also tells you how much of a given product we currently get from the EU and how much we get from each non-EU country.

For 76 of the 119 food products analysed by The Telegraph, the leading non-EU exporter provided less than five per cent of the UK’s import share of that product.

For example, Brazil controls over 30 per cent of the world’s chicken exports, but the UK imported less than one in 100 of its imported chickens from Brazil in 2017.

US, China and Mexico dominate in key export markets

While different countries specialise in exporting different types of food, analysing the data reveals that there are a few non-EU export powerhouses who dominate in multiple different commodity markets.

The United States stands head and shoulders above the competition when it comes to food exports – out of all non-EU countries it controls the largest export market share for 29 of the 119 products examined, well clear of second-placed China on 17.

This includes several key products that the UK mostly imports from other countries at present, such as corn (32.5 per cent of global exports), wheat (15.7 per cent), pork (15.5 per cent) and beef (14 per cent).

China, Mexico and Canada also have large market shares in a number of commodities important to the UK including beer, apples, pears, crab and lobster.

Food safety and protecting British farmers are key concerns

Eurosceptic Tory MPs are keen to see the UK leave the Customs Union as part of any Brexit deal, but this is far from the only barrier that exists should the UK look to sign new trade agreements with the rest of the world.

Food safety standards is a key issue, along with the potential for British farmers to get undercut by cheap low-quality imports.

President of the National Farmers Union, Minette Batters, said: “The potential for Government to unilaterally lower import tariffs on food could lead to British farmers being undercut by food coming into the country which may have been produced to lower standards than is legally required of UK farmers.”

Signing new trade deals is also a slow process, requiring years of negotiations, meaning that even if we leave the EU and Customs Union there is unlikely to be much change in the short term.

Potential long-term benefits to food security

Despite these barriers, other expert commentators have argued that such restrictions are damaging to the UK’s food security, and have encouraged the Government to take a more ambitious look at global free trade.

Matt Kilcoyne, trade expert at the Adam Smith Institute, said: “Diversity of imports is the ultimate food security. If crops fail in one part of the world, imports mean we can all keep eating. It’s meant life is both more secure, and more affordable.

“Those who oppose the UK having a more independent trade policy, and support preserving a protectionist bloc on the continent, should explain why they want to drive up the cost of living, keep choice low and scuttle a key benefit of Brexit.”

The UK imported £30.4 billion worth of food and drink from the EU in 2017 according to the ONS, but these figures could drop after Brexit.

Despite fears over such a fall in trade, some experts have argued that the UK should embrace the lifting of barriers with other countries and reducing its reliance on the EU.

Methodology

Global export and import data for all 119 products was sourced from the UN’s Comtrade database and categorised using the Harmonised System (HS) standard.

This data contained the value for all exports from every country in 2017. This was used to calculate the proportion of the global export market controlled by each country for each commodity. The same was done to calculate each country’s contribution to the UK’s food imports.

Export figures for EU nations were included when calculating each country’s export market share and UK import share.

Trade freedom is a composite measure of the absence of tariff and non-tariff barriers affecting trade, the measure is calculated by the Heritage Foundation.

Some discrepancies may exist between a country’s reported export figures and the corresponding partner country’s import figures. These discrepancies arise for a variety of reasons including time lag and goods passing via third countries.

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