Government launches COVID-19 ‘bounce back’ plan for food and drink exporters

The Department of International Trade and Defra have launched a new eight-point plan intended to help the food and farming industry ‘bounce back’ from the impact on trade of COVID-19. 

With so much focus currently on the implications for food imports and the standards attached to them from new trade deals, the Government is attempting to shift the spotlight to exports with this latest announcement.

The plan ‘turbo charge UK food and drink as the world recovers from coronavirus’ includes what the departments describe as ‘unprecedented help for SMEs’ allowing them to capitalise on trade agreements being negotiated by DIT with Japan, US, Australia and New Zealand.

Although the industry, notably the pig sector, has done well to adapt, food and drink exports have been hit and the Government said it was was ‘committed to supporting this most important of industries get back into international markets and start growing market share once again’.

The ‘bounce back’ plan includes a new programme of physical and virtual events tailored to help a variety of businesses and exporters, including an overseas virtual buyer trial, a ‘Smart Distance Selling Process’, and a package of ‘Ready to Trade’ Exporting Masterclass webinars.

The Government has also launched 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 will also see the introduction of Defra’s first Agri-food Counsellor serving the Gulf, representing the interests of UK businesses already exporting, or planning to export, to the region.

Export Minister Graham Stuart 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.”

Over the last two months the DIT has launched the first round of talks for the US, Japan and Australia and New Zealand Free Trade Agreement negotiations.

Farming Minister Victoria Prentis said: “The high quality of British food and drink is recognised around the world and the wider industry supports thousands of jobs across the UK.

“This package of measures includes the promotion and showcasing of British expertise and produce to new export markets, identifying opportunities and strengthening existing relationships.

 The full range of measures 

 1. Launch of a GREAT DIT Food & Drink Exporting Masterclass, an extensive and bespoke programme of webinars to be produced in conjunction with trade associations, UK regions, including Devolved Administrations, and DIT’s international network, supported by DIT’s Export Specialists.

 2.  Launch of Food & Drink SME E-commerce Accelerator Pilot to leverage DIT’s E-exporting Programme to increase the level of international e-commerce support for food and drink SMEs, including agri-tech. This will include the offer of one-to-one e-commerce export clinics with the programme’s e-commerce specialists and regional advisers, a new series of industry webinars and podcasts focussed on highlighting the opportunities available to export through e-marketplaces internationally, as well as virtual workshops on internationalising their websites for those companies selling direct to consumers in various markets around the world.

3. Promote 50 Food and Drink Export Champions to stimulate aspiring exporters, while utilising International Trade Advisor specialist networks focused on agri-food.

4. Announce the first Defra Agri-food Counsellor serving the UAE and wider Gulf Region, with the role focussing on supporting our food and drink sector and representing the interests of UK businesses already exporting to the area, as well as those looking to export for the first time. The new Defra-funded Regional Agri-Food Counsellor will be based in Dubai and will work alongside DIT’s existing sector leads in the UAE, providing specialist knowledge and engagement in Government to Government discussions on behalf of UK interests and sectors.

5. Launch of a programme of physical and virtual events, using innovative, interactive software to connect buyers, promote the UK and reach international markets. This will include: an overseas virtual buyer trial working directly with chosen US buyers through a virtual delivery programme; and developing a UK ‘Smart Distance Selling Process’, which includes the dispatch of food and drink samples to buyers.

6. Leveraging Defra’s Food is GREAT campaign, which will extend into the UAE and the EU later this year, to provide impactful and targeted activity in priority export markets, such as USA, China and Japan.

7. Two Virtual Investor Roundtables chaired by Lord Grimstone, Minister for Investment, with agri-food and drink, and agri-tech companies to inform the development of the UK’s investment strategy, the UK Agri-Tech International Strategy and the launch of Phase 2 of the High Potential Opportunity Programme.

8Uplift of UK Export Finance’s “Exporters’ Edge” campaign to further outreach and engagement to identify and respond to the needs of the industry and raise awareness of how UKEF and Trade Finance can help the businesses win and fulfil export contracts.

More reaction 

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said the export trade was critical to the wellbeing of the uk pig sector, the value of which has been highlighted in recent weeks as the strong Chinese trade has helped cushion the impact of COVID-19 on the industry.

“It is really important that we continue to explore new markets and we welcome any Government measures that will help pork exporters do just that,” she said.

“But this announcement must not detract from the bigger issues around our future trade deals, not least of which is the very serious threat of cheaper imports produced to standards not permitted in this country.”

Ian Wright CBE, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation said: “Support on this scale from UK Government is extremely welcome at this uncertain time. The package of measures is testament to the close and long-running work between FDF, DIT and Defra to boost our exports performance. Our success in restarting and expanding exports will be absolutely vital in aiding the UK’s post-Covid economic recovery.

 AHDB’s International Market Development Director Dr Phil Hadley said: “We welcome today’s announcement by government to launch a new recovery package, which will provide immediate support to those businesses looking to grow their trade activity overseas. 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.

Scottish Minister David Duguid said: “This ‘bounce back plan’ will help support the thousands of people working in the industry across Scotland and is a further example of the UK Government doing everything we can to make sure we recover from the unprecedented pandemic.”

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About The Author

Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.