SCOTLAND was among three areas of the UK which saw the strongest recovery last year in response to the challenges of the pandemic and Brexit, according to new research.

A report by the Food and Drink Federation found Scotland’s recovery has largely been driven by strong growth in exports of drinks and seafood products, which together accounted for £5.2 billion of total Scottish exports.

North-east England and Wales were the other areas which had the strongest recoveries.

Scotland’s food and drink exports in 2021 were up 15% on the previous year, reaching £5.7bn, showing the country was “recovering significant lost ground, but still down on pre-Covid levels”, the report said.

Its biggest export category was beverages, which made up almost three-quarters of total exports, which was described as “unsurprising” given the global strength of Scotch whisky exports.

Out of the 12 areas of the UK in the report, Scotland accounted for the largest share of UK food and drink exports at almost 30% of the total.

David Thomson, Food and Drink Federation Scotland’s chief executive, said: “Scotland continues to punch above its weight, accounting for the largest share of UK food and drink exports, with an impressive 30% of total exports.

“It’s heartening to see an increase in Scotland’s food and drink exports as the industry begins to recover from the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit.

“We hope that new opportunities will help further increase sales of Scotland’s food and drink abroad.

“We will continue to work with Scottish and UK governments and partners from across the food chain to support the recovery and growth of our vital industry.”

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France is now Scotland’s largest export partner, worth more than £1bn, while exports to China nearly doubled in 2021 to just under £225m.

The Food and Drink Federation said the share of exports to non-EU markets is increasing in Scotland, and there are big opportunities to drive further export growth through new trade deals with increased market access.

However Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not factored into the report, and researchers said they are yet to understand its full impact on the sector’s exports and on the global supply chains on which the sector relies for some ingredients, such as vegetable oils, cereals and white fish.

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “Scotland’s food and drink producers not only play a major role in our economy, these figures demonstrate that their high-quality products are being increasingly enjoyed by consumers across the world.

“I am always delighted to see Scottish food and drink products do well on the international stage and I would like to congratulate everyone involved in this significant achievement.

“These figures are set against the backdrop of significant challenges presented by the double blow of a global pandemic and Brexit and it is testament to the resilience of our producers and the quality of their products that the sector continues to make such a strong recovery.”