Emerging economies must be a priority for British agricultural exports post-Brexit, with higher-value processed food in demand by the growing middle classes.
Amid the talk of stockpiling food in a no-deal situation, Emma Jones, agriculture and food consultant at ADAS, highlighted it must not be forgotten the country also has excess food to sell.
“When it comes to working out which trade agreements are the most urgent, the UK Government cannot afford to de-prioritise emerging economies as potential export markets,” she said.
The UK was already an active exporter, with 5 per cent of barley exports going to Algeria and 2 per cent to Tunisia in 2017/18, while seed potato exports to Egypt were also on the rise.
“The UK now needs to expand out of simply exporting seed potatoes and focus on exporting higher value potato products such as crisps, for which there is demand across North Africa and the Middle East.”
Meat and dairy was also in demand, with an increasing appetite for yoghurt and ice cream. Offal and low value meat cuts could also find a market, with pig offal and less popular cuts already exported to China and potential in countries such as Vietnam.
She highlighted how animals were routinely sent from Northern Ireland to the Republic to be slaughtered then returned for packaging, while milk was also sent south or from England to the continent, before returning to the UK.
“This carousel process will clearly not be able to continue post-Brexit if the UK leaves the customs union and the single market,” she said.
Ms Jones said the UK could not afford to neglect potential non-tariff barriers which could be significant and ‘much more difficult to resolve’ than tariffs.
“Varying non-tariff barriers for plant health will also be a major issue when the UK wants to export grains and potatoes, as different countries will have different standards and exports will have to comply with those.
“There may also be technical barriers to protect the environment, national security or consumer information.”
She added when deciding which bilateral deals with developing economies to prioritise, the UK also needed to consider what imports the relationship could bring.
“Here, key countries to target include India for tea and rice; the UK is a huge consumer of rice and in 2017 imported 150,000 tonnes of rice compared to 210,000t imported by all other EU countries combined.”
She said meat imports from North America and Australasia had been in the headlines, but South American and Southern African origin would also be ‘very important’, with the UK importing more than 1,600 tonnes of beef from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay in 2017 and 1,130t from Namibia and Botswana.
“Red meat imports from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay are extremely competitive on price, as they operate low-cost production systems,” she said.
“Brazil, in particular, is a significant exporter of pig meat.”
She suggested the post-Brexit UK should consider trade agreements with these countries which set tariff rate quotas allowing specified quantities to be imported at a reduced or zero tariff.
“Maintaining or refreshing relationships with emerging economies post-Brexit will help minimise incoming food supply disruption and maximise export revenue for UK farmers.
“Some key emerging economies that the UK should be looking to target with bilateral trade agreements to fill the Brexit gap are therefore China, Vietnam, Brazil, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and India.”