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The UK’s agri-food sector contributes a whopping £20bn in exports each year, but only 20% of companies sell their goods overseas, according to the Government. A new export initiative will work to help more farmers and food businesses export their products.
“Our farmers are the lifeblood of our nation – producing the home-grown food that makes up a critical component of our nation’s food security, and acting as stewards of our natural environment,” said environment secretary George Eustice. “We want people at home and abroad to be lining up to buy British.”
The new support, which reflects recommendations from the Trade and Agriculture Commission, includes appointing more dedicated ‘agri-food attaches’ to act as representatives on the ground; establishing a Food and Drink Exports Council to work collaboratively to expand the UK’s food and drink export strategy; and strengthening the UK’s technical expertise and farmers’ and producers’ understanding of export markets.
NFU president Minette Batters said the move was a step in the right direction. “The NFU has long called for significant government investment which enables a partnership approach to international trade opportunities for British farmers. This is a positive step in the right direction, and I welcome this new commitment to put people on the ground with the technical expertise to open up new markets. I look forward to seeing more detail on this proposal and working with government to boost our agri-food exports abroad.
“In line with other countries like Australia and New Zealand, it is crucial there are farmer representatives as part of the UK agri-food trade delegation. We have also always maintained that there needs to be government match-funding of industry investment in trade and export promotion.”
Liz Truss, who was international trade secretary at the time of the announcement, said the plans were part of a post-Brexit strategy to boost exports. “Our food and drink is among the best in the world and an independent trading nation we’re seizing new opportunities that were previously denied to us,” she said.
The announcement comes as the Government delays introducing checks on food and farming imports from the EU. The measures, which were due to be implemented next month, will now be introduced in January and July next year, with the Government blaming Covid disruption and pressures on global supply chains.
Ian Wright CBE, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said the repeated failure to implement the full UK border controls on EU imports since 1st January undermines trust and confidence among businesses, while helping the UK’s competitors
“Many food and drink manufacturers will be dismayed by the lateness of this substantial change. Businesses have invested very significant time and money in preparing for the new import regime on 1 October 2021. Now, with just 17 days to go, the rug has been pulled. This move penalises those who followed Government advice and rewards those who ignored it. As recently as yesterday, officials assured us that import checks would be implemented as planned,” he said.
“The asymmetric nature of border controls facing exports and imports distorts the market and places many UK producers at a competitive disadvantage with EU producers.” The FDF called for financial support to help prepare for the new deadlines after the industry has “wasted” money investing three times for the checks.
However, the British Chambers of Commerce said the delays were “sensible given the ongoing issues with ensuring trader readiness, the need to build more border control posts and the skills shortage crisis”.
Digital food and beverage marketplace ShelfNow agreed that the delay is positive news, especially for small food and drink businesses. “The extension is a good thing as it provides breathing space to all brands and buyers of food and beverage,” said Philip Linardos, CEO and co-founder of ShelfNow. “In particular, it favours the smaller players, the backbones of the economy, who have not had the bandwidth in 2021 to prepare for Brexit regulations, both domestic and especially importer brands.”