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Business bosses pick out food sector as ‘champion sector’

By Mike Stones , 12-Nov-2012
Last updated the 13-Nov-2012 at 14:19 GMT

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has highlighted food manufacturing and agriculture as one of seven key “champion sectors” for growth, urging the government to develop a “coherent industrial strategy to boost exports”.

Agri-food joined automotive, aerospace, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, green technology and services, creative industries and knowledge-intensive business services on a list of sectors with particularly high growth potential, prepared by the CBI.

The plea to government to help the sectors succeed – particularly in fast-growing emerging markets – followed trade figures released on Friday (November 9), which showed a small rise in goods exports in September.

Export opportunities

The CBI highlighted the potential for £30bn worth of export opportunities by 2020. It wants the government to play to the UK’s strengths by focusing on ‘champion sectors’.

Katja Hall, CBI chief policy director, said: “Official data has recently shown that more firms are dipping their toes into emerging markets but there is scope to make even bigger inroads.

“We are not talking about picking winners but tilting the playing field towards sectors where we have a real edge, including the [agri-food],creative industries and automotives.

“It is critical that the government develops a coherent industrial strategy which could deliver a £30bn export boost by 2020.”

The CBI published proposals to lift UK exports in the report Playing our strongest hand: Maximising the UK’s industrial opportunities , published earlier this month.

The report noted the size of the prize in each sector and included specific action plans for growth. It notes that the agri-food sector contributes a gross value added of £20.4bn per year and is the largest single manufacturing sector in the UK, employing as many as 400,000.

£7.4bn of additional exports

“Exports have more than doubled since 2002 and have increased by 57% in the four years 2007–2011,” according to the report. “Our modelling suggests we could secure £7.4bn of additional exports to non-EU countries by 2020.”

The latest figures revealed that Britain’s goods trade deficit fell to £8.4bn in September compared with £10bn in the previous month.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) launched its own 20:20 Vision plan last year. It called for 20% growth in food and drink manufacturing by 2020.

Commenting on the CBI report, FDF director General Melanie Leech said: "This report moves the growth debate on from a collection of short-term tactical fixes to a long-term strategic vision to rebalance the economy towards trade and investment. Furthermore the call to embed that strategic thinking across government for the long-term and to benchmark the operating environment for UK plc against our competitors could deliver significant, shared and sustainable growth."

Leech added: “We’re delighted that the report, recognising the strengths of our sector, contains an action plan for food, supporting our own 2020 vision for growth and recommending joint action between industry and government on exports, innovation and skills. While we’ve made good progress in all of these areas, targeted government involvement could accelerate the growth of Britain’s largest manufacturing sector.”

Meanwhile, Mike Wright executive director of Jaguar Land Rover, commenting on the CBI’s plea, said: “The UK automotive industry is enjoying a resurgence, but we face stiff competition from large car manufacturers around the globe.

“If the UK plays to its strengths, setting the right conditions and developing the right skills for industry, we can thrive long into the future.”