EU still tops Britain's export ambitions - but it is looking further afield

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock/CharlieAJA
© iStock/CharlieAJA

Related tags: Drink exports, International trade

The UK's action plan to increase post-Brexit exports over the next five years sets its sights on China, India, the US and Latin America - but it wants to see the biggest growth coming from exports to neighbouring Germany.

The UK's Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) recently published an international action plan​ to boost food and drink exports by developing new markets and encouraging firms to export. Currently around one fifth of British companies do not export at all.

The report says: “We will, in due course, begin the negotiations to leave the European Union. Leaving the EU will allow us to shape our own international trade and investment opportunities, drive even greater openness with international partners (in Europe and beyond) and put the UK firmly at the forefront of global trade and investment.”

Going for growth

Exports of branded food and non-alcoholic drinks increased by 13.7% in Q3 2016.

The strongest growth since the start of 2016 has come from Spain, which grew by £158m (€185m), £124m (€145m) for China and £60m (€70m) Germany .

The top three countries – which together represent 42% of total exports – are Ireland, France and the Netherlands while the best-selling categories are chocolate, salmon and cheese.  

The target is to collectively raise the value of UK exports by £2.9 billion (€3.4bn) with specific targets for regions that  the greatest potential: Australia and New Zealand; Mexico and Latin America; France; Germany; India; the USA and Canada; China; Japan; the United Arab Emirates and Gulf states.


Activities to promote British food will include online information packs, attending regional roadshows, trade shows and meet the buyer events, communication campaigns and profile-raising cultural events in primary markets. Removing barriers to export will also be key.

But despite the focus on increasing exports to non-EU countries, DEFRA’s most ambitious target is for neighbouring Germany.

It wants to see exports to Germany increase by £610 million (€714m) over the next five years. “A very strong and emerging market exists for speciality food, free-from, vegan and organic. This will allow the premium end of UK food and drink to establish itself in a large market,”​ says the report.

For France it wants to see an increase of £132m (€154m) and has pinpointed convenience, on-the-go and snacks as interesting categories.

The report also notes that France and Germany are interesting because together they host the world's biggest food trade shows, Anuga and SIAL.

The target for the US and Canada is for an additional £579m (€677m) in exports by 2020. However the report – published before Donald Trump was elected president – says this will be dependent on trade agreements not yet set in stone: “Once secured, market access for lamb and beef will open up significant opportunities in retail and foodservice categories in both US and Canada.”

Meanwhile, targetting the “large and growing​” middle class in India is another opportunity, especially given its appetite for British food and drink which creates potential in the ambient category for products such as tea, biscuits, condiments and, increasingly, organic foods.

tea biscuit UK british Droits d'auteur Upyanose
© iStock/Upyanose

For China a target of £405m (€475m) has been set. “[China is] the largest e-commerce market in the world and still growing​,” says the report. “Memoranda of Understanding with key e-marketplaces and focused promotions will support work on market access for pork, beef, lamb and poultry as well as premium seafood."

DEFRA also identifies China, the world's second biggest buyer of imported beer, as having significant potential for wine and spirits.

Director General of the UK’s trade group Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Ian Wright said the Q3 results were “very encouraging”.

Director of the Food and Drink Exporters’ Association (FDEA) Elsa Fairbanks issued a word of warning about retaining trade links with Europe. We must also remember that EU markets still represented 71.5% of UK food and non-alcoholic drink exports in Q3 2016, and this should be borne in mind as we leave the EU.

“In our experience, EU retail and foodservice buyers are very positive about the quality and innovation behind UK products and stress to us the importance of maintaining close links going forward.”

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