Popping into a British store like Marks & Spencer to grab some food for dinner is not unusual after a busy day at work.
However, when that store is in a shopping centre in Shanghai, and the aisles are packed with all your favourite British brands and delicacies, you begin to realise the impact our farming and food and drink industries are having on the international market.
In May, I visited China with a number of businesses, large and small, from the UK food and agriculture industry. The purpose was to explore export opportunities and meet with successful companies already engaged in the process. It was also a chance to investigate exactly which products foreign markets were looking to Britain to supply.
It was excellent to see so many different enterprises looking to expand in a new and exciting market, and it’s exactly this trade the government is keen to support and develop. We know that food and farming has an important role to play in helping the economy and being part of the growth agenda.
A recent successful trade deal secured by the government – the export of pork meat to China – will see the UK economy £50m a year better. It’s a landmark agreement, and will really help boost the country’s economic recovery.
There’s a growing interest in British food and agriculture worldwide, which is bringing us exciting business opportunities.
In China, it was apparent that the retail sector offers a huge opportunity to the UK, and I was able to speak to retail chains already operating there about their experiences of entering the Chinese market, as well as to Chinese retailers who are keen to import high-quality British products.
We’re already exporting a number of things, such as breakfast cereals, biscuits and whisky, but as Chinese consumers’ tastes change, we want to be able to provide them with a wider range of commodities.
Our processes are well respected worldwide. Take the Associated British Nutrition and Agriproducts (ABNA) feed mill in Tianjin. ANBA is a good example of a British company that’s not only successful financially, but is also contributing to China’s agricultural development. Working closely with the Chinese government, it’s helping to improve food safety standards, a key issue in a country that is conscious of the risks of contamination.
This first-hand knowledge of a country’s requirements is vital to help support other businesses, particularly SMEs, at the beginning of their investigations and throughout their export activity. UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) is running road shows for SMEs to explain how to access the export market.
Many of these companies may have felt that the international market was perhaps too expensive to explore, but we’re working to radically reduce the levels of bureaucracy and enable these companies to contact our overseas representatives for help in individual markets.
There are fantastic opportunities in foreign markets for UK food. In China alone, the meat and breeding sector is key, as Chinese consumers rapidly increase the amount of meat in their diets. However, there are also challenges, such as helping China with food safety and modernising its agricultural system.
As with many emerging markets, personal income in China has risen in both urban and rural areas. Shoppers are becoming more discerning in their tastes, and looking for products and services to complement their increasingly modern lifestyles. With 1.3 billion Chinese to cater for, the market for British goods is growing exponentially.
To stand in a foreign store, surrounded by aisles packed with brands from home was a revelation. I will be encouraging both Defra and the industry to build further on these important trade relationships, and to get our products and skills out there to fill the gaps in the international market and boost our export economy.
Jim Paice is agriculture and food minister, and the Conservative MP for South East Cambridgeshire