UK suppliers urged to build relations abroad

The UK’s independent meat suppliers have been advised to target alternative, international markets to remain profitable in a world without the security of the EU. 

To establish its independence from the European Union, UK processors have been warned they can no longer be so reliant on EU markets. “We all know the majority of where our lamb goes is to other European member states,” said Phil Bicknell, market intelligence director at the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) Beef & Lamb. “We export around 100,000 tonnes of lamb each year give or take; 95% of that is to other parts of the EU.” 

Speaking at the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) annual conference at Thorpe Park Hotel and Spa in Leeds this weekend (Saturday 28 October), Bicknell highlighted that there was a challenge in how the UK would broaden its lamb and sheepmeat exports, particularly when competition from the other side of the world is taken into account.

“We also know that Australia is trying to increase its market access to a whole list of areas,” he explained. “We’ve got areas of the world where we would ideally be looking to trade with sometime in the future.” Bicknell noted that Australia was working with China to establish a free-trade agreement, which could hinder the UK’s market. “We’re kind of playing catch-up when you look to a little bit further around the world.”

Growing populations

Moving forward, Bicknell said the UK must not lose sight of the growing population of the world. Coupled with the emerging global middle class, how can the industry target these markets?

“Where is the population growth of the future going to be?” he asked the delegation. “Where’s that emerging middle class? It’s Asia-Pacific. 2009 figures: 525 million (m) people are in that category. 2020: that’s 1.7 billion (bn). By 2030 that’s forecast to be 3.2bn. So in a summer where we’ve seen government ministers going off to different parts of the world and talking about trade deals, actually all things being equal, I would rather the ministers be talking about Asia-Pacific and what are the trade opportunities there from an agri-food perspective rather than perhaps the Australias and New Zealands and the North Americas that we’ve seen ministers heading to over the summer months and those countries we talk about being the front of the queue when it comes to the trade deal.”

Bicknell said supply and demand was expected to grow, with an increase in 10m tonnes in pigmeat over the next decade, 15m for poultry and beef will be just shy of eight million.

“If we’re to capitalise on any of this, there are some pretty big hurdles that we have to face in the meantime, and that’s probably another understatement. We know that getting trading arrangements in place is not the same as getting trade deals. For instance, we know that we can get UK malt and barley into China, but because we haven’t got the right trading agreements in place it means that the product hasn’t flowed. Just doing the trade deal is only part of it, it doesn’t mean it will flow.”

When it comes to meat products, there are additional issues due to the sanitary and health aspects of the animal.

Upon leaving the EU, Bicknell said that the industry must be ready from day one to not only focus on securing new markets, but to ensure the UK has continued access to existing markets.

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