Producers of the traditional Cypriot cheese halloumi saw a reduction in the growth of their exports, as orders have been cancelled and quantities left undelivered as a result of the tight grip of restriction measures across the EU.
2020 marked the first time fifteen years that the steady upward trend of halloumi exports was halted, with the declining course becoming particularly visible by October, when many EU countries imposed stricter restriction measures, including the closure of restaurants.
Cheesemakers' Association President George Petrou told the Cyprus News Agency that exports have mainly been affected over the past three months through the cancellation of orders and a general decrease in demand, resulting in some 7,000 tons of stock remaining undelivered out of the total of 35,000 tons that are usually exported.
The industry took its hardest hit with the second wave of the pandemic, as during the outbreak of the pandemic around March demand for halloumi had remained relatively unaffected as sales continued through supermarkets and restaurants across Europe.
"While there was a 20-25% annual increase [in exports] over the last fifteen years, we have already fallen to a 10% increase until October and by the end of the year, exports are expected to remain at the same levels as last year," said Petrou.
Based on last year’s forecast for demand, the cheesemakers had signed contracts with producers for increased quantities of cow milk, which as Petrou said, is expected to remain unconsumed. Additionally, he said, the Ministry of Trade in January increased the quota of goat milk to be used in the production of halloumi from 20% to 25%, contributing to a further reduction of the quantities of cow milk needed.
Petrou also expressed concern over developments after Brexit and the possibility of a direct trade agreement between the UK and the north. Under EU rules, the Turkish Cypriot community could not export directly to the UK. In the event of a direct trade agreement, Petrou said, British importers could buy cheaper halloumi from the north, which he said is not obliged to follow the same rules and controls in force in the areas controlled by the Republic, an EU member state.
The concerns of cheese makers increased after Thursday’s meeting of the Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar with the British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, in which the issue of direct trade was raised.