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House of Commons Hansard
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12 June 2014
Volume 582

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4. What progress he is making on opening up new markets to British farmers and food producers. [904171]

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In 2013 we opened 112 markets for animals and animal products, helping increase exports to non-EU markets by £179 million, to £1.35 billion. We continue to negotiate with third countries, and so far in 2014 have opened 54 new markets.

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Building on that success and the growing reputation for British food and drink abroad, which I know from my own experience as an exporter in the sector, what plans do the Government have to use international sporting events, such as the Grand Départ of the Tour de France which arrives in Harrogate and Knaresborough in just three weeks, as a platform further to promote that success?

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My hon. Friend has been an enthusiast for this event coming through his constituency. He raises an important point. We will be looking to use all opportunities we can to promote British foods. Major sporting events are an excellent way for companies to showcase their products. UK Trade & Investment Yorkshire and the Humber is bringing in a series of buyers from around the world to meet local companies at a “meet the buyer” event at the Carriageworks in Leeds on Wednesday 2 July. Many of those buyers will then travel on to the International Festival for Business in Liverpool.

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Our egg producers have been outraged to learn that Italy will face no financial penalties for its failure to implement the EU directive that outlaws battery cages. Our poultry farmers have invested millions of pounds to comply with the law, and, as a result, have put themselves at a competitive disadvantage in a very tough international market. Why does the UK implement EU directives that other countries see fit to ignore, and what will the Government do to support our poultry sector?

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The Government have consistently raised concerns about other member states not complying with the rules on battery cages that were introduced two years ago. It is fair to say that the Commission has taken this matter seriously and has brought some cases against some member states in the European Court of Justice. We continue to maintain pressure on the Commission, but I believe it takes the matter seriously and is taking the appropriate action.

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I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The Minister will be aware of the drastic reduction in farm-gate beef prices and the effect that has had on confidence in the sector. Will the Minister tell us why he thinks that reduction has taken place? What is he doing to find other markets that will encourage an increase?

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The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. This is one of the key issues being raised with Ministers as we go around agricultural shows. We will have a summit on the matter before the summer recess. A number of factors are driving this: it is partly due to changes in global commodity prices, but it is also clear that in some cases supermarkets are taking a larger margin than before. Regarding solutions, we are keen to open new export markets for British beef so that farmers can get a better price. We are also keen to ensure that there is fair contracting between farmers and processors, and between processors and retailers.

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The Minister will be aware of my correspondence on the export of pork to China. From his correspondence to me on 8 May, I know that inspections are to take place with the authorities in Northern Ireland, as DEFRA regulates the negotiations on behalf of the whole of the UK. Will the Minister advise the House on when those inspections will take place? What is the possibility of approval following on from that?

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The hon. Lady has raised this issue with me a number of times and we have had meetings on it. It was also raised with me at a meeting in Northern Ireland at the beginning of this year, and we continue to raise it with the Chinese authorities. When Mr Zhi, the Chinese farming Minister, was in the UK in April we took the opportunity to raise it again. We want more meat processors to be able to export pork to China and we need clearance for their plants. We will continue to keep up the pressure.

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Exporting beef would improve the market here, and I know the Secretary of State has done an excellent job in China. Japan still bans our beef, right back from the days of BSE. We now have BSE completely under control, so it is time those markets were opened up again. Will the Secretary of State and the Minister do their very best to make sure that happens?

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All I can say to my hon. Friend, who has been a champion of this industry for many years, is that we are working on many different fronts to create new markets. In the past year, we have opened markets for breeding cattle to countries such as China, for pig meat to Chile and for dairy to Cuba. In the year ahead, we will continue to look at exporting beef to Singapore and poultry meat to Papua New Guinea. The country is working incredibly hard to open as many new export markets as possible.