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New Markets

Volume 624: debated on Thursday 20 April 2017

6. What progress her Department is making on opening up new markets for British farmers and food producers. (909664)

Since 2015, DEFRA has opened or improved terms for over 160 markets for agri-food commodities. Increasing access to markets is a priority set out in the food and drink international action plan. We work with industry to identify and prioritise new markets and increase export value.

In my role as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Nigeria, I have recently invited the Nigerian agriculture Minister to come to the UK. Does my hon. Friend agree that it will be important to show him the whole of the value chain in agriculture, in which we do so well?

I commend the work that my hon. Friend does in building relations and important trading links with Nigeria, which is an important trading partner. It is also an important market for some fisheries products, including mackerel. I am delighted to hear that he has invited the Nigerian agriculture Minister here to see some of the great work that we do through the supply chain and some of the technology that we use to reduce waste in the supply chain.

Does the Minister recognise that it is crucial to place the needs of the agricultural sector at the heart of the Brexit negotiations? Is it not clear that if the Government do not get their act together, a bad Brexit deal would leave British farmers and food producers facing the double whammy of cheap food imports and tariffs on their exports?

Access to the UK market is incredibly important for European countries as well. We export around £11 billion-worth of food and drink to the European Union, but we import some £28 billion-worth of food from the EU. That is why farming unions across the EU are telling their Governments that they must have a free trade agreement with the UK.

But how do the Government intend to deliver on these promises? The Country Land and Business Association is saying that the Government should admit that they cannot design a workable new agricultural policy in less than two years because DEFRA simply does not have the capacity to do so. The Government’s failure to reach an agreement could leave our farmers unable to compete at home and abroad. What specific guarantees can the Minister provide here today to rural communities across the country that farming subsidies and tariff-free trade will be guaranteed under a Tory Government?

We have some tremendously talented policy officials in DEFRA and in our agencies, and they have been working closely on the detail behind the design of future agricultural policy on some of those issues. The Prime Minister has made it clear that she is going to make an offer to the other European countries of a bold, ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement.

One of the markets that farmers in northern Lincolnshire are hoping to expand is the production of crops that can be converted into bioethanol fuel. However, they are concerned about the Government’s commitment to this market. Can the Minister reassure them that this is a market for future expansion?

We see a role for bioethanol fuels, but we are also keen to ensure that we do not lose too much good agricultural land to biofuels. My hon. Friend will be aware that this is predominantly an issue for the Department for Transport, and I would invite him to raise it with that Department in the next Parliament.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) has just pointed out, markets are not only country-based but product-based. The UK has a tremendous market for lactose-free milk, most of which is imported. What can we do to encourage UK producers to develop that product and manufacture it in the UK?

We have a strong dairy industry in this country, and there are lots of opportunities of that nature. We have established the food innovation networks, and we have the agritech fund and a number of other funds to support innovative product development of that kind.