LONDON, ENGLAND — While U.K. exports of flour and mixes reached a record level in 2018, the region’s milling association warns Brexit could have a catastrophic impact on trade.

Exports reached 370,000 tonnes in 2018 with a value of more than £230 million, according to the National Association of British and Irish Millers (nabim). The quantity of exports has increased 25% over the last five years while the value has increased 31%. That is equivalent to about 450,000 tonnes of wheat, nabim said.

The growth is testament to the quality of flour and mixes produced in the U.K., nabim said. However, the milling sector faces the challenge of Brexit, the U.K. government’s plan to leave the E.U. on March 29.

nabim flour export chart

About 95% of the exports go to E.U. countries, particularly the Republic of Ireland, said Alex Waugh, director of nabim. In an interview with World Grain last fall, Waugh said the U.K. supplies 80% of the flour consumption to Ireland.

“If there is not a Brexit deal, from 30th March these will be subject to tariffs of approximately 50% of their value,” he said. “We expect this will have a catastrophic impact on the trade; the businesses which have invested in growing exports; their staff and customers.  It must be avoided at all costs.”

The U.K. government and E.U. member states reached a transition agreement in November 2018. This agreement has yet to be ratified and on Feb. 14, members of parliament rejected a motion asking them to reaffirm support for Prime Minister Teresa May’s plan to seek changes to her Brexit deal.

nabim said with the agreement, tariff free trade with the E.U. can be maintained at least until 2020 and likely well beyond that date. However, it’s looking less probable that the agreement will be ratified before March 29, nabim said.