The Economic Research Council notes that the UK’s trade balance deficit is growing: it was £3.1bn in July, compared to £1.3bn in June and £1bn in July of last year (ERC website). Import substitution would rectify this imbalance.
Open to Export week, urging SME food producers to ‘go global’, has just finished and we await the Food and Drink International Action Plan from UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) and DEFRA, which hopes to further the government’s overall ambition to raise UK exports to £1 trillion and to get 100,000 more UK companies exporting.
UKTI plans a two year programme of activity ‘showcasing’ the British food and drink industry to markets including Vietnam, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, South Korea, Hong Kong and Macao, China, USA and Europe.
In its 2012 report, Driving Export Growth in the Farming, Food and Drink Sector, government’s ‘ambition’ was laid out:
“(It) is to see greater access to overseas markets for British products; businesses viewing exporting as a key route to growth; more SMEs selling to overseas customers; and the sector as a whole focussing more energy on the high-growth emerging markets. We will achieve this by lobbying energetically for the removal of trade barriers.”
In August DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson led a UK food trade mission to Russia to promote UK food and drink exports. Russia, China, India and Brazil are seen as a great markets for British exporters and at the end of last year, Russia lifted its 16-year ban on British beef and lamb imports.
DEFRA welcomed the move saying it would provide a “lasting legacy of opportunity for thousands of British food and farming businesses”.
Government goals appear to be shared by the EU hierarchy:
In July, EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloș went to Beijing, as part of a bid to strengthen EU-China cooperation in the areas of agriculture and rural development. He said: “Based on a long term, trustful and open collaboration, our trade relations in the area of food and agriculture are growing” and referred to an agreement made last year for a cooperation plan on agriculture.
China, which in the past met its own food needs through a policy of agricultural self-sufficiency, has now lowered that expectation to providing only staple foods.
Dairy farmer Kathleen Calvert outlines the best way forward
- The Chinese should sort out their own food quality issues by putting their wealth back into their own country and paying their rural poor enough to stimulate their local rural economies and produce the food they want, instead of seeking the cheaper option of transporting the quality of food they desire from far flung countries in all corners of the globe.
- People ought to be encouraged to live in the communities from where they take their income or contribute proportionately back into that community or its local economy where the availability of a staple food supply ought to be a priority.
- Trade should be proportionate, with surpluses and shortages evened out between neighbouring communities first, before sending food to countries who are able to produce that food for themselves.
- In the UK, speciality foods like bananas and oranges that we cannot grow ought to be our imports, and eating home produced seasonal food should to be encouraged instead of demanding all year round supplies of things we produce in our own country. Milk and dairy produce that we are able to produce in sufficient quantity ourselves ought not to be imported and exported in large quantities to suit the short-term aspirations of large corporate businesses and politicians.
Government’s ambition should be to ensure that those whom they were elected to serve have an adequate and fairly traded supply of wholesome British food rather than destroying the balance of trade by importing food which could be produced at home.