Global sales of UK food and drink have hit the £20bn mark for the first time in history, as the Government prepares to ramp up its focus on international trade following the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
UK exports grew by nearly 10 per cent in 2016, with food and drink sales to the US – one of Britain’s biggest markets – up 12 per cent, according to the government’s figures published on Tuesday.
China is also becoming one of UK’s fastest growing markets, with the export value of pork skyrocketing to £43m, a jump of over 70 per cent on the previous year’s figure.
Exports of branded food and non-alcoholic drink led the way in 2016 with growth of 11.5 per cent to £5.2bn, the 16th year of consecutive growth, according to figures from the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).
Excluding alcohol, the UK’s top three export categories remain chocolate, salmon and cheese, with exports of salmon up 16.4 per cent, driven by large increases to France, up 32.2 per cent, Ireland up 24.6 per cent and Germany up 98.9 per cent.
According to prepared comments seen by The Independent, Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom will on Tuesday say that British exports are showing no sign of slowing.
“As we prepare to leave the EU, there has never been a better time to become more outward looking – developing new trading relationships and establishing our place as a truly Global Britain,” Ms Leadsom will say ahead of the National Farmers Union conference.
With only one in five food producers currently exporting, according to figures cited by the Government, Westminster has turned its attention to ensuring UK companies have the skills to tap into international markets.
Ms Leadsom is expected to say: “The food and drink industry cannot do this alone – we need to give them the skills, knowledge and contacts to make the most of the opportunities ahead.”
“I want to see more companies taking advantage of these opportunities, which is why we’re expanding our team of trade experts to support UK businesses, encouraging them to take the leap and share their quality produce with the world,” she will add.
France and Germany are among the priority markets identified in the UK’s International Action Plan for Food and Drink, a government policy paper launched last October.
Through this plan, the Government is focusing on forging stronger links with key markets including the US, Canada, China and India to generate an extra £2.9 bn in exports over the next five years.
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While the fall in the value of the pound against the dollar has helped to boost UK export competitiveness, it has also made essential imports more expensive and the UK’s food and drink trade deficit grew 5.7 per cent to £22.4bn, according to the FDF.
The impact of weaker sterling on British exports is expected to be seen in the first half of 2017 as companies negotiate new sales agreements with overseas buyers.
Last week, a report commissioned by supermarket chain Morrisons and based on research by Professor Tim Benton from the University of Leeds found that only just over half of the food eaten in the UK comes from local sources.
Professor Benton said that in light of global uncertainties, it makes “increasing sense” to build up a stronger local food sector in the UK.