Video: UK needs coherent agri-food trade policy and land use strategy, AIC tells MPs
The Government needs to establish a more coherent agri-food trade policy and work more closely with industry during negotiations, AIC has told a committee of MPs.
Speaking before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee today (21 November), the Chief Executive of the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC), Robert Sheasby, gave the UK agri-supply industry's perspective on how trade deals are negotiated and trading relations are managed by the Government.
Chaired by the Rt Hon Sir Robert Goodwill MP, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee inquiry is scrutinising the UK’s agri-food trade strategy and will make recommendations to the Government on how it could be improved.
"At the moment it feels like we enter individual Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) where we set a strategy for those individual agreements and then it goes very quiet and that is a real concern," Mr Sheasby told MPs.
"We would rather see an overarching clear trade strategy for the UK that certainly takes account of agriculture and agri-food in the widest possible sense.
"We know that other parts of the world are better at engaging commercial businesses in the heat of negotiation.
"There are opportunities that might be overlooked by not having a closer partnership between relevant government departments, principally the Department for Business and Trade (DBT) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), when they are negotiating."
Watch the video highlights from the inquiry session below.
Data and communication
"If you better partner with industry you can probably go much further much quicker in finding new trade opportunities.
"We welcome the recently-announced agricultural attachés but we're thin on the ground. There are a couple of people in Brussels representing the UK Government in this area - the Norwegians have a delegation of over 200. It's a step in the right direction, but we've got a long way to go," added Mr Sheasby.
Asked how effective the UK is at adapting its international trade policy in the face of international shocks, Mr Sheasby said supply chains have coped well with the major disruption seen at the start of the Ukraine war in February 2022 but flagged an issue around the availability of data and government knowledge of stock positions.
"With Ukraine, it took until May for us to start to know what our stock position was in the UK. That data lag period is like driving while looking in the rearview mirror, we've got to get to a place where the data is available much more quickly.
"I look to other countries in Europe where they can turn that data around in a matter of weeks and can make a trading decision based on hard facts rather than a summation.
Land use strategy
Mr Sheasby used the session to reiterate AIC's call for the Government to establish a land use Strategy to give confidence to the industry and encourage investment.
"The UK would really benefit from a clear land use strategy on what the country wants to achieve from the land asset that is available, therefore giving confidence to inward investment, farmers to produce products that our Members and others in the supply chain may be able to look at exporting.
"Joining land use and trade strategy, and linking this to domestic agricultural policy would be a good place to start."
The cross-party committee of MPs will consider AIC's evidence alongside that of other industry stakeholders throughout the supply chain, including AHDB, the Food and Drink Exporters Association and the International Meat Trade Association.
To watch the full Committee session, go to the ParliamentLive.TV website.