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AHDB January trade round-up: Potatoes

Potato exports drop in January after busy December (Source: HMRC)

As the first month of import and export data of potatoes and potato products after Brexit is in, the AHDB takes a closer look at the data and what they could mean...

The latest HMRC trade data covers up to January 2021, the first month following the UK’s exit from the EU trade bloc. Across all categories recorded, imports and exports have fallen from December with figures at the lowest reported this marketing season.

This comes as little surprise, given the reports of delays and difficulties at ports around the UK during the first weeks of January. The imposing of strict lockdown measures in the UK throughout January until present have restricted demand levels, reducing the import requirement.

Changes to HMRC data collection for January onwards have resulted in potential questions on the accuracy of figures. Previously, Instrastat surveys collected volume per month by physical movement. The new method collects volume per month by customs declarations, which could create a problem if physical movement is delayed into the new calendar month.

Seed exports to the EU were present in HMRC trade data too despite the current legislation preventing seed exports to the EU. 1.83Kt of potato seed were reportedly exported to EU destinations in January according to trade data. It is likely this is a lag in the reporting of December trade figures, though still begs the question why they are included in January with current legislation preventing such exports.

Export

The two different data collection methods means comparisons to previous figures becomes somewhat difficult to validate. But, we know that December exports were the highest of the season so far, with the uncertainty of a no-deal Brexit present until the 24 December.

This was a big driver for trade. We also know that in January, logistical delays and certification delays disrupted the level of exports. Anecdotal reports from industry have highlighted problems lasting throughout January.

Fresh potato exports for January fell from December, and was below the Jul – Dec monthly average too. January saw 7.44Kt of fresh potatoes exported to EU and Non-EU destinations. Of this, 5.32Kt of fresh potatoes moved to Spain in January.

This includes Canary Island trade too which reportedly was disrupted by vessel problems. This total volume sits 23.21Kt (-76%) lower than January 2020. Exports of fresh potatoes are down 31% in the season to date (July-January) against 2019/20.

Processed potato exports also fell in January to a historic low. In the season to December, figures were higher than 2019/20, bolstered by strong levels at the start of the season. The Republic of Ireland and Netherlands were the two main importers of processed potato products from the UK.

Imports

Imports of fresh and processed* potatoes were behind 17% versus last year, season to date. This is somewhat expected, given the muted demand present in markets due to lockdown measures, reducing the import requirement.

In January, 6.00Kt of fresh potatoes were imported, largely from Belgium and Cyprus. This monthly volume was the lowest since November 2018.

Processing imports totalled 45.41Kt (product weight) in January, largely from Belgium and the Netherlands. Imports of processed material were historically low for January, affected by low demand domestically and logistical delays at ports.

These factors also impacted on imports of frozen potato products which declined from December to 36.21Kt. In the season to January imports for frozen potato products have fallen, reflecting declining demand.

Consumer trends during lockdown periods have favoured fresh potatoes for meal occasions. Starch imports also lagged against the monthly average for Jul–Dec, down 58%.
 

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