The new strategic interventions jointly announced by the Department for International Trade (DIT) and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) will offer immediate support to help businesses in the industry grow their trade activity overseas.
The Government said the measures would support producers, manufacturers and agri-tech companies across the food supply chain, from farm to fork.
As well as the concern about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the food and drink sector, there have also been worries about the Brexit impact on export trade.
Recently, the National Farmers Union (NFU) made fresh calls for the Government to establish a UK/EU free trade agreement as it warned of the “tsunami” of red tape.
In April, food and drink exports bucked the wider downturn in UK international manufacturing sales caused by the impact of the coronavirus, softening an overall decline from January to March 2020, Lloyds Bank International Trade Index claimed.
The Government revealed that its “bounce back” plan would include a new programme of physical and virtual events that had been tailored to help a variety of businesses and exporters. These included an overseas virtual buyer trial, a ‘Smart Distance Selling Process’, and a package of ‘Ready to Trade’ Exporting Masterclass webinars.
The Government said it was also launching a Food & Drink SME E-commerce Accelerator Pilot to leverage DIT’s E-exporting Programme and increase the level of international e-commerce support for small and medium-sized food and drink enterprises (SMEs), including agri-tech.
It revealed it would also promote 50 Food and Drink Export Champions to stimulate aspiring exporters.
Leveraging DIT’s existing E-exporting Programme, it said, it would also launch a new SME E-commerce Accelerator Pilot to increase the level of international e-commerce backing for SMEs in the food and drink industry.
The plan would also see the introduction of DEFRA’s first agri-food counsellor serving the Gulf. This new role would support the UK’s food and drink industry and represent the interests of UK businesses already exporting, or planning to export, to the region.
Over the last two months the DIT has launched the first round of talks in the US, Japan and Australia & New Zealand free trade agreement negotiations.
Additionally, the department has announced the first UK Tariff in almost 50 years, the UK Global Tariff, which firmly backs British industry, including agri-food and drink. In 2019, the UK exported £2.4bn-worth of food and drink to the US, £312m to Japan, £453m to Australia and £58m to New Zealand.
Free trade agreements
Minister for export Graham Stuart, at the DIT, said: “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.”
Parliamentary under-secretary of state Victoria Prentis, at DEFRA, said: “This package of measures signifies our strong commitment to support the sector in recovering from the impact of coronavirus. It includes the promotion and showcasing of British expertise and produce to new export markets, identifying opportunities and strengthening existing relationships.”
The news was backed by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF). Ian Wright, chief executive of the FDF, said: “The ‘bounce back’ plan will ensure that specialist support is available to those UK businesses which trade around the world and provides fantastic potential for those companies looking to export. With a footprint in every constituency, food and drink is uniquely placed to drive an exports-led recovery.”
Meanwhile, Dr Phil Hadley, international market development director at the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), said: “Coronavirus has had a big impact on the UK’s export activity and, while we continue to ship our produce around the world, the challenges of the pandemic have been strongly felt in all sectors.
“Therefore, we are very encouraged to see this ‘bounce back’ plan, which will provide significant support to many of the UK businesses we assist in growing their overseas trade.”