Andrea Leadsom has confidence in the UK’s food and drinks exporters and is encouraging them to enter the Chinese market.
Speaking today at a conference for the Food and Drink Exporters Association (FDEA), Leadsom spoke of the export opportunities available in the Chinese market as well as other countries outside of Europe.
She said: “I’m hugely optimistic about our nation's future and I am really excited by the prospect of introducing our products to new markets.”
Last year food and drink exports were worth £18 billion and this is expected to increase by 10 per cent, according to Leadsom. Only around 20 per cent of UK food and drink companies export abroad despite being the largest manufacturing sector in the UK.
Leadsom added: “No matter what your product or industry there is always more to do, more deals to be struck and more places to export our Great British brand.”
Following a trip to China in November, her first visit as secretary of state, Leadsom said she was “overwhelmed” by the Chinese enthusiasm to sell more British food and drink exports. The UK has a reputation for “quality, safety and tracebility” which Leadsom said was confirmed at her meetings in China.
The problem is often that Chinese demand outpaces the willingness of UK businesses to supply, Leadsom said: “Although it can be a difficult market to break into, the economic prizes are huge.”
She added: “A key ambition for my department is to see more Great British food grown, sold and consumed right across the world.”
China has a growing middle class in a population of 1.4 billion, with the number of Chinese middle class equalling the total population of the USA. Leadsom said that by 2018 China would be the largest market for importing food and drink.
However, she does recognise that for many exporters, the new market opportunities do not change the fact that around 60 per cent of current exports go direct to EU countries.
She reassured attendees that securing ongoing access to the EU was a top priority for her department. She used the example of farmers, who will receive the same level of agricultural support until 2020 and the fact that pillar two payments signed before the UK leaves the EU will be guaranteed for their lifetime as evidence of her efforts.
She said: “By working together we can take more great British brands to new markets and secure a prosperous future for this vital industry as we leave the European Union.”