UK exports of goods to the EU fell by £5.6 billion in January 2021 which contributed towards the biggest monthly decline in British trade for more than 20 years.

Exports of food and live animals to the EU, which includes seafood and fish, decreased by £0.7 billion in January 2021, a decrease of 63%.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), imports fell by 28.8%, or £6.6bn. It added that January 2021 is the worst since monthly records began in 1997 in terms of trade, as the UK’s GDP dipped by 2.9%.

The slump in trade has largely been attributed to stricter checks and certifications implemented by the EU at the end of the transition period.

The Scottish Seafood Association said exports to the EU are being hit by “red tape” delays between Scotland and France. It added that the consignment sign off is reportedly taking six times longer, and previously overnight transit of goods to France is reportedly now taking three days.

“The January data shows that this is not just an issue to do with the UK fishing sector but it is a food industry wide problem.”

Mark Lynch, Partner at corporate finance house, Oghma Partners, said the results come as no surprise considering the impact of Brexit on the industry.

He said: “The poorer performance posted by the sector is no great surprise when the sector has faced the challenges of the introduction of new rules regarding the export of food products including export health certificates.

“The food industry’s export woes will increase in April when an added layer of documentation will be needed by multi-ingredient products. It is sad that the vibrant and innovative UK food industry is being hampered by the manner in which the decision to leave the EU was executed.

“The January data shows that this is not just an issue to do with the UK fishing sector but it is a food industry wide problem. Whilst the scale of the impact is not mission critical for the food industry it does highlight the cost of the political choice that was made. The decline in sale should lessen as we progress through 2021 as company’s get better at form filling, none the less, we currently anticipate that 2021 will see a decline in UK food & drink exports of between £2-4bn, this equates to real sales, real profits and ultimately real jobs.”