‘Bounce back’ plan for UK agrifood sector to bolster trade outside EU

The plan centres around strengthening ties with Japan, US, New Zealand and Australia, allowing businesses to capitalise on the trade agreements which are currently underway. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

The United Kingdom announced a ‘bounce back’ plan of trade measures for the agriculture, food and drink industry on Tuesday (23 June), designed to allow businesses in the industry struggling in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak to grow their trade activity overseas.

The plan, which will be driven jointly by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Department for International Trade (DIT), offers a package of measures designed to “turbocharge” the UK agrifood and drink industry and ensure it benefits from new trade and investment opportunities, including future free trade agreements.

This plan centres around strengthening ties with Japan, US, New Zealand and Australia, allowing companies to capitalise on the trade agreements which are currently underway. Over the last two months, the DIT has launched the first round of talks for Free Trade Agreement negotiations with these countries.

As with elsewhere, the UK agriculture, food and drink industry has been significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement published online, the UK government contends that although the sector has “done well to adapt,” exports have been hit hard and the government is “committed to supporting this most important of industries get back into international markets and start growing market share once again.”

The announcement comes on the back of growing concern about the direction that UK agrifood trade, which amounted to €58 billion in 2019, will take post-Brexit, and about the future relationship between the bloc and the UK.

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In 2019 the UK exported £2.4 billion of food and drink to the US, £312 million to Japan, £453 million to Australia and £58 million to New Zealand.

The plan will also see the introduction of DEFRA’s first agri-food counsellor serving the Gulf region. In this new role, they will support the UK’s food and drink industry and represent the interests of UK businesses already exporting, or planning to export, to the region.

UK Government minister for Scotland David Duguid said the country is “working to ensure we enjoy the new opportunities as a country outside the EU through making new free trade agreements with countries around the world – bringing a wealth of new markets to our sector”.

Graham Stuart, Parliamentary under-secretary of state at the DIT, stressed that more trade is absolutely critical to helping the UK’s agriculture, food and drink industry recover from the impact of coronavirus.

“The package of measures we have announced today will support ‘bounce back’ in exports, and help our world-class producers and manufacturers increase trade with the rest of the world.”

“It will also get the industry ready to capitalise on the opportunities that are being opened up by the series of free trade agreements that my department is negotiating around the world.”

The agriculture, food and drink sector is the UK’s largest manufacturing industry and plays a vital role in the country’s food supply chain, which contributed £121 billion to the UK economy in 2018 while supporting around four million jobs.

In 2019, UK food, feed and drink exports were worth £23.7 billion, up 4.9% from 2018.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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