Brexit has given the impression the UK’s food market is ‘up for grabs’, according to a top agricultural banker.
Allan Wilkinson, HSBC UK head of agri-food, told attendees at a Cereals debate that since the vote to leave the EU, global food businesses had expressed much more interest in breaking into the British market.
“I get probably two emails a week from international food processors wanting to sell into this market,” he told the Cambridgeshire event.
“Brexit has told our international peers and competitors, rightly or wrongly, the British food industry is up for grabs.”
NFU president Minette Batters agreed, explaining the Argentinians, Canadians and Australians were eager to boost their food sales to the UK’s 65 million wealthy consumers.
“The world’s eyes are on our marketplace,” she said.
News of global competitors lining up to take a share of the UK market will concern British farmers, who are already competing in a ‘cut-throat’ retail environment and facing the loss of direct payments.
“With the Sainsbury’s-Asda merger, we are seeing far more challenges,” Ms Batters said.
“You speak to any of the retailers and they will say this is the most difficult marketplace in the world.”
The NFU president revealed she had instructed competition lawyers to look at how supply chains could be made fairer as subsidies were removed.
She said: “In the 2017 election, there was cross-party support to roll out the Groceries Supply Code of Practice and we have not gone anywhere with it since.
“We really want to bring the whole of the UK together to look at how fair supply chains can be achieved.”
Ms Batters also told Farmers Guardian she would expect Defra Secretary Michael Gove’s promised ‘gold standard’ labelling system to ensure fairness to the primary producer.
“I would see this as the most important aspect of it,” she said.
During the Cereals debate, concerns were raised about the ‘Waitrose-ification’ of the UK food supply chain as Defra demanded farmers produce to higher welfare and environmental standards.
Ms Batters said: “Sweden has welfare standards above what consumers are demanding.
“What do they do? They import more German food on the back of it.
“There is an extraordinary undercurrent in Defra at the moment which is almost about the privileged few being able to afford to buy British and poorer people having US chicken.
“Every person in this country, regardless of what income they are on, should have the opportunity to buy high-quality British food.”
The fear of increased US imports has grown this week as G7 countries promised to slap tariffs on a range of American products in response to President Donald Trump’s moves to protect steel and aluminium industries in the US.
Tariffs on American agri-food products are expected, which could give the President new motivation to open up the UK market post-Brexit.