The Government must do more to boost economic confidence if the agri-supply sector is to have any chance of withstanding further shocks, Ministers have been warned.
The alarm was sounded at last week’s Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) agribusiness conference, which was attended by Defra Minister Mark Spencer.
While more than two-thirds of delegates said they believed the agri-supply chain was proving resilient to recent economic challenges, there was a general feeling that it would not be able to cope with any future shocks without a stable and supportive Government.
AIC chief executive Robert Sheasby called for the formation of ‘an economy-wide business task force’ to consider the impact of proposed legislation and further free trade deals on business, insisting Government departments must demonstrate some ‘joined-up thinking’ on crucial policies.
He told delegates at the Peterborough event: “We need the Department for International Trade to get behind agriculture when it comes to competitiveness and to make sure when entering into trade agreements that UK agriculture, and what it can provide, is not overlooked.
“We should expect our negotiators, led by their political leaders, to find the opportunities which will assist growth in competitiveness.”
In delivering his speech, one of his first as Minister, Mr Spencer reiterated the Government’s support for its Environmental Land Management schemes, while acknowledging that ‘change’ sometimes brings ‘challenges’ for businesses.
Allan Wilkinson, head of agrifood at HSBC, also questioned the UK Government’s support of businesses, in particular its commitment to building exports.
Mr Wilkinson said: “Protein demand is still growing at an insatiable rate, along with the global population. But the UK imports £58 billion of food and has the third largest food deficit in the world.”
He accused the Government of not being ‘engaged’, which was causing the UK to fall behind other nations which benefit from more Government involvement in trade.
NFU deputy president Tom Bradshaw took the opportunity to raise a number of issues which were currently posing huge challenges for the farming and food industries.
He pointed to agflation, which has hit a new high of 30 per cent, and the ‘dire consequences for consumers’ of the egg supply chain crisis.