Farming News - Government approach to export activities lacks ambition

Government approach to export activities lacks ambition

27 Jun 2019
Frontdesk / Finance

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s today launches its Brand Britain: Promoting and Marketing British food and drink report.

Food and drink manufacturing is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, contributing £28.2 billion to the economy annually. In 2018, food and drink exports were worth £22.6 billion. Trade is therefore vital for the food and farming industries. This inquiry explored whether enough was being done to promote British food and drink, at home and abroad.

While progress is being made in some areas, we are concerned that the Government is not being ambitious or strategic enough in its approach to marketing and export activities. The food and drink industry has recognised what needs to be done to increase export activities via its proposed Food and Drink Manufacturing Sector Deal. The Government should approve this Sector Deal immediately and confirm a timetable for its implementation.

Food labelling

Research shows that while origin is important to some British consumers, purchasing behaviour is primarily driven by price. The origin of food can be found on the label, but less often for processed food.

The Government should introduce requirements for the origin of characterising ingredients in processed foods to be specified on labels – for example, the origin of the poultry in a chicken curry. This would enable those consumers who prefer to buy British to make informed choice.

Geographical Indications

Geographical Indications (GIs) provide legal protection against unlawful imitation of protected food and drink products. They also confer a price premium on products, making GIs both economically important as well as a recognised indicator of origin.

Given the potential for the UK to leave the EU without a deal in October, the Government should ensure that the domestic GI system meets the criteria required for EU approval and is ready prior to exit, to minimise disruption to British exporters. This Report recommends the Government make seeking a reciprocal agreement with the EU on GIs a priority, especially if agreeing an overarching withdrawal agreement is not possible.

Tradeshow Access Programmes

The Government’s Tradeshow Access Programme (TAP) provides businesses with support they need to attend trade shows abroad. It is seen by the industry as an important way for companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to promote their businesses and break into new markets. The Committee therefore welcome the increased focus on SME participation in TAP.

However, TAP spend on food and drink has declined by 10 per cent since 2017/18. This dip reflects an ongoing trend of decreased funding. In addition, the rules on accessing grants have become more restrictive. The Tradeshow Access Programme should be reviewed urgently, in consultation with industry and trade associations. Funding should be potentially increased as part of the upcoming Spending Review.

International awareness

Awareness of British food and drink is low in international markets. More research is required to work out the best ways to promote British products overseas and increase exposure to British food. Recognising this gap, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) has made commendable efforts to provide international market intelligence. The AHDB currently conducts market research across both domestic and international markets.

It is not clear if this dual responsibility is the most effective arrangement. The current review of the AHDB should consider whether the balance of funding between domestic and international market intelligence and promotion is fit for the future. AHDB should also assess if more needs to be done to promote to the domestic market. 

Neil Parish MP, the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said:

“Trade remains an integral part of the UK economy. Our food and farming industry generates hundreds of billions a year and employs one in eight people. Given the uncertainty of Brexit, it is absolutely essential that the Government takes steps to build Britain’s global brand for food and drink.

“What the current approach to marketing and export is really lacking is enough ambition or strategic thinking – the Government cannot afford to be complacent at a time of such grave importance to the sector.

“Those working in the sector have clearly recognised what needs to be done to increase export activities in the proposed Food and Drink Manufacturing Sector Deal. We must see the Government work closely with the industry to promote our food and drink excellence around the world.

“As our Report states, market access and increasing exports do not happen overnight, and action must be taken urgently.”