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Food and Drink Sector

Volume 626: debated on Thursday 6 July 2017

4. What estimate he has made of the value of the contribution of the food and drink sector to UK exports. (900258)

10. What estimate he has made of the value of the contribution of the food and drink sector to UK exports. (900265)

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will answer questions 4, 9 and 10 together. The food and drink sector makes an important contribution to exports. In 2016, UK food and drink exports reached £20.1 billion, an increase of 9% from the previous year. This represented 6.6% of our total goods exports. For the first quarter of this year, food and drink exports reached £4.9 billion, up 8.3% on 2016, representing the highest first quarter exports value on record.

I gently say to the Minister that the grouping is with Nos. 10 and 12. [Interruption.] No, a question was withdrawn, and it might well be the case that the briefing had not kept up with the evolution of events, I say to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). That should satisfy him; he does not seem easily satisfied this morning, but that will have to do.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister understands the importance of the food and drink sector to the south-west of England, so may I ask what he is doing to promote growth and trade across the south-west?

The answer to my hon. Friend’s question exemplifies the type of tailored help the Department for International Trade can give. Working with our officials in the south-west and local producers and businesses, we have created the Great British Food programme, which is designed specifically to allow south-west food and drink businesses to interact directly with overseas buyers. We have already seen them working with the EU, Turkey and China, and since April 2016 we have won over £19 million-worth of business across more than 30 export markets.

As the Minister knows, food and drink manufacturing is an enormous market, particularly in my constituency. Issues over regulations, sampling and tariffs are among the concerns of global leaders such as Muntons, as well as some of my smaller exporters. Will he agree to meet me and them to discuss these issues further?

My hon. Friend had a number of such meetings when she brought her local chamber of commerce down to London, and I believe that Muntons was part of that. She is absolutely right, however, to say that regulations, sampling and tariffs are an important part of doing trade deals, and it is important that we maintain those standards ourselves as well. It is absolutely the job of the Department for International Trade to interact with those people who need help at any level, and I would be very happy to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and meet not only Muntons but others as well.

Lincolnshire has a proud tradition of producing food, and the food and drink industry is very important to my constituency. What is the Minister doing to help the food and drink manufacturers in Lincolnshire with their exports?

The Department for International Trade spans the whole of the country, and when it comes to specific areas, we look at specific needs. For example, in October, the Department and the midlands engine trade mission will be going to Anuga trade fair in Cologne, which is the leading international trade fair for food and beverages. I hope that we will be taking firms from my hon. Friend’s constituency to promote their goods and opportunities there.

9. York has a food manufacturing sector, and it has real concerns over the increases in import and production costs and over labour; we are all, of course, concerned about the environment. Can the Minister tell the food manufacturing sector what new trade opportunities he has secured for it, and what their value will be to the economy? (900264)

The value to the economy of the food exporting sector is absolutely enormous. I think it is the biggest manufacturing sector in the world. We have already seen a number of opportunities for going out and exporting it, and trade figures are up by some 7%. We can give a breakdown of the actual data, and I would be happy to write to the hon. Lady about that later. Without a shadow of a doubt, the Department for International Trade is successful in what it does. We have seen exports increase across all sectors and, as I pointed out earlier, we have seen record numbers in food and drink exports.

Why have the Government done nothing to stop Nestlé moving production from the United Kingdom to Poland, with the loss of 300 jobs? The Government confirmed this week in a written answer that Ministers met Nestlé in April. Nestlé has said that it would take an investment of £1 million to keep production in the UK. The Government found £1 billion to save one job in Downing Street, but they cannot find £1 million to save 300 jobs at Nestlé. Unbelievable!

The hon. Gentleman raises a number of issues. The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) has been working hard on behalf of her constituents to try to help with the redundancies at Nestlé, as indeed has the Department for Work and Pensions, which is standing ready to put in place its rapid response service. We are happy to meet representatives of Nestlé, and I would be very happy to meet them again. [Interruption.] Fantastic. Thank you.

Scottish food and drink exports have doubled since the Scottish National party Government came to power in 2007. This has been key to the development of the Scottish economy. What does the Minister think about Michel Barnier’s comment that frictionless trade in goods is “not possible” outside the single market and the customs union? Given the concerns of the Scottish Food and Drink Federation and the Scotch Whisky Association, and the huge reliance of the Scottish economy on this sector, will the Minister consider a transitional arrangement?

The total value of Scottish exports is some £62 billion a year, of which £50 billion is exported to the rest of the United Kingdom. That is as good a statement as any as to why Scotland should remain in the Union of the United Kingdom, rather than in the European Union.

More than 80% of the fish caught around the south-west coast and 30% of our lamb is exported straight to the rest of the EU, yet under World Trade Organisation rules, that produce would face very high tariffs. What guarantees can the Minister give that our fishermen and our agricultural industry will not face tariffs or any other barriers if we leave the European Union?

This is all part of our negotiations with the European Union. It is an ongoing process, which will hopefully reach its end by March 2019. The United Kingdom Government are very keen to secure a deal with the European Union that sees no change whatever for businesses. We want as smooth a transition as possible into independence from the European Union, and the interests of fishermen down in the south-west are as important as those of everyone else.

More than £30 million-worth of fish was sold through Brixham fish market last year, the most valuable catch in England. Will the Minister meet me and industry representatives to discuss opportunities for expanding markets after we leave the European Union, as well as frictionless trade and smooth transfer across the border?

The Secretary of State is a Member of Parliament for the south-west, and he is happy to come and have that meeting, as am I as the departmental lead on the food and drink sector. Between the two of us, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) may get twice as many meetings as she anticipates. We look forward to coming to help.