Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised that farmers’ interests will be put at the heart of future trade policy, as he welcomes industry leaders from across the food supply chain to a Downing Street summit today.
The Prime Minister unveiled a range of commitments to support the food and farming industry, also including support to boost domestic fruit and veg production and new investment in technologies, as the UK Farm to Fork Summit identifies ways to boost growth, drive innovation and improve sustainability.
In a bid to boost trade and export opportunities, Mr Sunak said farmers’ interests will be put at the heart of trade policy through a new framework for trade negotiations, committing to protect the UK’s high food and welfare standards and prioritise new export opportunities.
The Prime Minister has written an open letter to farmers today setting out six principles to ‘help the industry benefit from the trade opportunities available to us outside the EU’:
1) Putting agriculture up front. Our trade deals will always consider the full impacts and opportunities of those trade agreements for our domestic agricultural sector.
2) Protecting sensitive sectors. We are prepared to do what is right to protect particularly sensitive sectors, including in Free Trade Agreements, and including, where appropriate, through permanent quotas.
3) Prioritising new export opportunities. Our trade negotiations will deliver new export opportunities for UK food and drink producers to sell more of our world-class produce to growing markets around the world.
4) Protecting UK food standards. Without exception, we will continue to protect food standards in the UK under all existing and future Free Trade agreements. There will be no chlorine-washed chicken and no hormone-treated beef on the UK market. Not now, not ever.
5) Upholding UK production standards. We will seek to advance international co-operation on animal welfare and to promote high welfare standards. Production methods such as sow stalls and battery cages are not permitted in the UK. We will safeguard our ability to maintain high environmental, animal welfare and food standards in new trade agreements.
6) Removing market access barriers. We will ensure UK farmers and producers can access new markets by removing barriers outside of Free Trade Agreements – building on recent successes such as the lifting of the long-standing US ban on British lamb.
“Finally, we will also do everything possible to support you, and all our food and drink producers, to take advantage of the opportunities that come from applying these principles,” he said.
The Government also pledged to:
- Invest £2m to boost its programme of global trade shows and missions, as well as providing £1.6m for the GREAT food and drink campaign.
- Build on our existing overseas network with five additional agri-food and drink attaches who will spearhead the removal of restrictive market barriers
- Extend funding to promote seafood exports around the world and create a new bespoke £1m programme to help dairy businesses, particularly SMEs, seize export opportunities.
The government will aim to unlock the benefits of innovative technologies to strengthen our food security, cementing the UK’s leadership in this field through:
- Up to £30 million of investment to drive forward the use of precision breeding technologies, building on the £8 million already invested over the last five years and the passing of the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act earlier this year
- The creation of a new working group – bringing together plant breeders, food manufacturers and retailers – to get produce from farms to the shelves.
The government said it will protect the interests of farmers by making sure they get a fair price for their produce, highlighting the use of new powers under the Agriculture Act to improve transparency and contracts in the pork and dairy market and announcing additional reviews into fairness in the horticulture and egg supply chains.
It also pledged that ‘recognising the unique role and needs of the sector, and listening to the calls from the NFU, FDF and others’, the Grocery Code Adjudicator will not be merged with the Competition and Markets Authority, in recognition of its importance in ensuring our food supply chains function as they should.
There were various specific pledges of support for the horticulture sector, including making 45,000 visas available again to it next year, enabling growers to plan ahead for the picking season.
This was alongside general policy initiatives aimed at increasing the resilience of the sector and support its growth, including plans to cut the red tape currently holding farmers back from delivering projects on their land to diversify their incomes, such as repurposing farm buildings to use as shops, with a call for evidence later this year.
There will be a focus on increasing water security by accelerating work on water supply infrastructure, so that farmers can count on steady access to water, including in periods of intense dry weather.
The event will aim to build on progress made since the launch of the government’s Food Strategy last year, which committed to broadly maintain levels of domestic food production.
Attendees at the summit will include senior representatives in the UK’s farming, horticulture and agri-food sectors. The event will look at how government and industry can work together to increase investment, innovation and sustainability and support the long-term resilience at every stage of the food system, from farming to manufacturing, distribution and retail, and feature discussions on a set of key themes alongside a showcase of great British food and drink businesses and innovators.
Mr Sunak said: “I will always back British farmers, and I pay tribute to their hard work and dedication all year round which keeps shelves stocked and food on our tables.
“Supporting our farmers and food producers must, and always will be, at the heart of our plans to grow the economy and build a more prosperous country.
“That’s why I’m proud to host this summit, and working together, I’m determined to build resilience, strengthen our food security and champion the best of British at home and overseas.”
Defra Secretary Thérèse Coffey said: “I am delighted that today we have embarked on our next step to back British farmers and ensure a thriving food and drink sector which will see more British produce on supermarket shelves and plates both in the UK and across the globe.”
NFU President Minette Batters said: “I am absolutely delighted that the Prime Minister has honoured the commitments he made when he addressed our hustings event back in the summer to hold this food summit at Number 10, and we welcome the announcements made today.
“They show a recognition and an understanding of the strategic importance of British food and farming to the nation.
“These actions recognise the importance of coordinated action across government to support confidence, investment and growth in British food. We look forward to working with the Prime Minister, the Defra Secretary and the rest of the cabinet to Back British farming and bolster our domestic food security.”
NPA chief executive Lizzie Wilson saidL the event will be a ‘fantastic opportunity to raise some of the key issues we face as an industry at the very highest levels of Government, and also to discuss with key people from across food and farming how we can work together to build a more functional and sustainable supply chain’.