'˜New food unit must open key Asian and US markets'

British farmers must be helped to sell their produce to countries in Asia and America as part of the government's new push to increase exports, the industry's union leader said.

Environment Secretary Liz Truss wants to turbo-charge UK food exports.

NFU president Meurig Raymond welcomed the announcement this week that Defra’s Great British Food Unit was now open for business and said he would ensure that the union played its part in meeting Environment Secretary Liz Truss’s call for the creation of more food industry apprencticeships.

Mr Raymond said: “With 2016 being designated the year of British food, I am encouraged by the Government’s move in establishing a unit which will help promote and celebrate great British food. Anything which can showcase British farming and farmers, not just for they food they produce, but for the value the British farming industry adds to the economy, employment and our beautiful and diverse countryside is a step in the right direction.

Sign up to our Business newsletter

Sign up to our Business newsletter

“What I want to see now is more export markets being made available to British farmers to sell to countries such as China, Japan, the USA and Saudi Arabia.”

The government’s commitment to driving exports through a centralised team of experts from across Defra could hardly be more timely, Mr Raymond said.

“Over the past 18 months, all sectors, particularly livestock and dairy have been under financial pressure from low prices. That’s why we need to create more opportunities to get more great British products into new global markets.”

Over the next five years, the new food unit aims to help treble the number of apprenticeships in the food and drink industry to bring new skills and ideas “so the pace of innovation continues to accelerate”.

Mr Raymond said: “Business management and leadership skills are crucial to taking agricultural businesses forward and improving performance to achieve a professional and efficient workforce. The NFU, as part of the AgriSkills forum, will help ensure that training is easily accessible and affordable for farm businesses.”

On Wednesday, Miss Truss said the idea of the food unit was to “turbo-charge” UK food exports, a drive which she said would potentially create an extra 5,000 jobs.

Long-term, the new unit is intended to help the UK match France and Germany, which both currently export food and drink products which, in total, are worth more than double that of the UK’s exports.

Over the next five years, the unit will also aim to attract more Foreign Direct Investment into the food industry and increasing the number of Protected Food Names to help differentiate British producers in the eyes of international markets.