New research, commissioned Wyelands Bank, has shown that the food and beverage industry is the fastest growing sector of the UK’s exports. The research predicts that food and beverage exports will grow at 6.3% a year until 2021, a rate of growth that would place the sector ahead of the aerospace, precious metals, automotive and pharmaceuticals industries.

The research was prepared in collaboration with Global Trade Review and Coriolis Technologies, a trade data company which provided the relevant information to the research. Aimed at better understanding the role of exports and imports in the UK economy, it was found that food and beverage exports were worth $27.2bn in 2017; accounting for the predicted growth, an extra $1.7bn a year could be added to the industry’s export valuation.

After the US, the UK stands as the world’s second largest food and beverage exporter; within the UK, the food and beverage sector is the sixth largest for exports. Last year, the food and drink manufacturing industry created in excess of 800,000 direct jobs and produced £243bn in turnover. In spite of this size, and the industry’s global position, the sector is in fact mostly domestic and only 9% of total production is directed to exports.

Iain Hunter, CEO of Wyelands Bank, said: “Food and beverage businesses are important to the UK economy and the industry is a significant source of export growth over the next five years. What’s more, we can see how important SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] are to UK trade, given SMEs account for more than half of the businesses in the food and beverage industry.

“Smaller, more innovative companies – especially in manufacturing – play an important part in the UK’s foothold in global supply chains, as these food and drinks businesses demonstrate.”

At present, the UK stands as one of the most open economies in the G20 with 58% of GDP accounted for by trade. The European Union (EU) currently stands as the biggest trading partner for UK exports (taking a 46.3% share) with the US following at 17.2%, yet while their current share is small (7% and 1.2% respectively), the Asia Pacific and South American regions are expected to grow their share of UK exports most rapidly (by 3% and 0.5% a year until 2021).

Hunter added: “Trade is important because it has helped contribute to the UK’s record employment levels, providing financial security for millions of families up and down the country.

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“However, in order for businesses to succeed, they need working capital. It is only by providing better access to funding that we can support businesses to trade, grow and create jobs.”

The research’s analysis “is based on the trends and patterns in trade flows which it projects forward. It does not account for potential political or policy changes.” This could mean that, with the advent of Brexit and the ongoing struggle over what the exit deal will be, the analysis’ prediction of trade changes could be deeply impacted, particularly in regards to the EU.