A leading policy analyst has confirmed that the UK government is working to reduce food export trade barriers.

Rachel Gwyon is director of UK nations, agriculture, food and drink with the newly formed Department of Business and Trade.

She spoke at the recent Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) conference in Belfast.

According to Gwyon, the current commitment to have trade barriers reduced is already paying dividends.

As a case in point, she confirmed that a recent agreement, arrived at with the US, will see lamb exports from the UK to that country total some £37 million over the next five years.

In addition, Northern Ireland is already leading the way, relative to other regions of the UK, where food exports are concerned.

“Food exporting businesses from Northern Ireland have a tremendously positive story to tell,” Gwyon explained.

“It is all about creating business growth for the future.”

Opportunities for food export

Looking ahead, Gwyon predicted the opportunities for UK-based food companies to export their produce to the Pacific Rim region, a market of almost two billion consumers.

Last month the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, announced a deal which would see the UK joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

This is a huge trade bloc in the Indo-Pacific which will now have a total gross domestic product (GDP) of £11 trillion.

It is believed that joining the Trans-Pacific partnership will cut tariffs on exports for UK industries including food, drink and cars and offer new advantages for business.

Gwyon also confirmed the potential to grow the level of food self-sufficiency in the UK. She foresees the ag-tech sector playing a key role in this context.

Northern Ireland food production

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s food and drink sector is feeding the equivalent of 10 million people throughout the UK and beyond.

This was one of the key messages communicated to the conference by NIFDA chief executive Michael Bell. He also confirmed that the sector employs 113,000 people.

“The food and drink sector accounts for one-fifth of Northern Ireland’s private sector,” he explained.

“But these are challenging times for the industry. Food inflation is rampant and the challenge of food on a wholly sustainable basis.

“Northern Ireland is home to 1.8 million people, so the current scale of the local food sector highlights the importance of export opportunities that it must avail of, now and into the future.

“This is a key moment for Northern Ireland food and drink as we adapt to new trading arrangements, the need to make sustainability gains and ever-evolving regulatory and consumer market trends,” he concluded.