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Food and Drink Exports

Volume 584: debated on Thursday 17 July 2014

Food and farming is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK. We have fantastic products, and sales are a real success story. Exports of food and drink have increased by £1.2 billion since 2010, to a value of £18.9 billion. Since 2010, we have negotiated 564 market access agreements with 109 countries, including those on pork to China and beef to the USA.

May I start by joining in the congratulations to my right hon. Friend on her new role and welcome her to the Department? Will she join me in celebrating the £210 million investment in the Nestlé factory in Hatton in my constituency, where the production of Dolce Gusto coffee will be centred? Will she congratulate Fiona Kendrick, the chief executive officer of Nestlé, on record exports last year from this south Derbyshire factory?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her promotion of food and farming in her constituency and the massive success in securing this investment. It is fantastic to know that coffee produced in Hatton will be enjoyed from Houston to Hannover as a result of this new investment, and I wish this every success.

18. Is the Secretary of State concerned about the export of food and drink packaging used in this country? Is she looking at measures to introduce things such as packaging recovery note offsets to ensure that such packaging is recycled in the UK rather than exported? (904937)

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, and that is certainly something I will be looking at and discussing with my junior Ministers.

In 2012 the Agri-food and Drink Export Forum said that it would report on the progress it was making. The organisation is doing good work, so will the Secretary of State tell us what progress has been made and when we will get the result in report form?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I understand that the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who has responsibility for farming, has already had a meeting with the organisation. Like my predecessor, I am passionate about increasing our food exports, as that is very important, and I look forward to working on it.

Leading voices in the food and drink sector in Scotland have recently made it clear that they see that it is in their interests, as exporters, that Scotland should remain in the United Kingdom and the UK should remain in the EU. The Secretary of State and I probably agree on the first point, but does she agree that it is in the interests of the food and drink sector in the UK that we should remain in the EU and not withdraw from it?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point about the UK: we are better together and we speak better as a single voice. That is very important. What I would say about the EU is that I have every faith that the Prime Minister is going to secure a fantastic renegotiation so that we have the benefits of trade, but with a reduction in bureaucracy and red tape.

There are 400,000 people in the UK directly employed in the food and drink sector, which is the one I was working in before I came here. We still import a higher proportion of our food and drink than any other country in the G20, so may I urge the Secretary of State to continue all the focus on redressing that balance and on exports?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend about that, which is why we are focusing on opening up more markets to British food—the US market is being opened to beef, which is a fantastic opportunity. But we also need to be encouraging more of our young people to look at food, farming and agriculture as a career, because fantastic skilled jobs are available and we need to make the idea of working in food and farming much more mainstream.

I welcome the Secretary of State to her post and wish her well. She will know that food fraud and authenticity issues and crises, such as the horsemeat scandal, which was presided over by her predecessors, can quickly destroy the value of UK food exports and the confidence of UK consumers in our food industries. Why, then, has the final report of the Elliott review of the horsemeat scandal, promised in the spring, not been published? Will she undertake to publish it before we go into recess?

We have received the Elliott report and we are looking at it at the moment; it is something that I am absolutely working on. We have made a priority of biosecurity and of ensuring that our food is safe, and we are working hard on that area.