Irish dairy co-ops are making the most of what could be the last year of an accessible UK market on the doorstep.
They have increased cheddar cheese annual exports to the UK 27%. Butter sales increased to the UK also, but there is a big fall in speciality cheese exports.
The UK’s cheddar imports rose steadily in the past 18 months, almost all originating from the EU, particularly from Ireland. Imports of cheddar for January to June, 2018, reached 52,511 tonnes, up 25%.
According to HMRC and AHDB statistics, the increase was mostly due to higher imports from Ireland, totalling 46,684 tonnes in the six months to June, 27% up on the same period last year.
However, HMRC statistics show a slump of 36% in imports of speciality cheese from the Irish Republic, 9,625 fewer tonnes in the first six months.
Imports increased instead from France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark, resulting in overall imports increasing by 5,352 tonnes (3%).
There was better news in the UK butter market for Irish exporters. Compared to January-June, 2017, the UK bought in 1,634 tonnes (6%) more butter, driven by consistently higher volumes from Ireland, and a spike in Dutch imports in June.
About 18,000 of the 28,000t imported in the first six months of this year came from Ireland.
Imports were reduced from France and Poland. The only non-EU butter imported was 75 tonnes from New Zealand in June, down from 664 tonnes imported from NZ in the first six months of 2017.
The size of the dairy produce trades into and out of the UK indicates how disruptive Brexit could be. UK exporters stand to lose out also, having, for example, shipped out £615 million of cheese in 2017, up 23% from 2016, according to the HMRC.
Most of this went to the EU, including to Ireland.