The commitment was made by food minister George Eustice as he officially inaugurated IFE, the international food and drink event, at London’s ExCel on March 20, the second day of the show.
For the first time in its 40-year history, the 20th IFE received the official support of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Department for International Trade.
“The UK is really proud to be the partner country supporting this event,” said Eustice. “If I’m honest, I don’t know why it took us 40 years to get to that point but I think the fact that we are sponsoring it this year demonstrates how seriously we take food and drink exports and how seriously we take the food and drink industry.”
Contributed more than £28bn
Eustice stressed the importance of food and drink to the UK economy, which contributed more than £28bn a year, provided added value throughout the supply chain of around £100bn a year and employed almost 4M people. “So, it is our most important industry and we are also trying to focus on developing exports for British food and drink,” he added.
“In the last 12 months we have seen our exports grow by 9% to other countries. They have grown now to a record £20bn in food and drink,” said Eustice.
“We have had particular success in countries like China. This, for the first time last year, entered our top 10 markets for British food exports. That represented a 50% growth in British exports to China in just one year.”
Eustice added that the government was also actively working to open new markets in countries such as Japan for famous drinks brands and British beef, as well as in the Middle East, opening up the market for British lamb in Kuwait.
‘Ambitious free-trade agreement’
Regarding Brexit, Eustice said: “We are working incredibly closely to put together a new type of partnership [with the EU]. We want a bold and ambitious free-trade agreement with the EU; a very close customs agreement that gives us the freest possible trade with our European partners but also, crucially, which leaves us free and with the option to open up free-trade deals elsewhere in the world with other countries.
“That is why, this year of all years, we are putting so much emphasis on developing outside markets and developing interest in our market from third countries.”
Eustice also referred to the establishment of an export forum to support business. “We’ve made huge progress on this with an export action plan supporting thousands of different businesses, both large and small, to access markets in overseas countries.”
IFE 2017, which was co-located with the Pro2Pac equipment and Waste-Works shows, hosted more than 1,300 food and drink suppliers from around 60 countries and expected more than 30,000 visitors from about than 100 countries around the world over its four days. For the first time, there were also exhibitors from Tunisia, Algeria, Singapore and Palestine.