The annual Provision Trade Federation (PTF) black tie dinner was held on 7th March at the Hilton on Park Lane, London, and guests had the opportunity to hear from Defra Minister George Eustice.
Addressing dinner attendees, Eustice outlined some of what the food industry can expect in the run up to and post Brexit.
“I am conscious that at the moment there is a lot of apprehension about the current negotiations we have on our future partnership with the European Union,” he said.
“We have since last year made big steps in terms of the government’s industrial strategy and recently we saw the formation of a new Food and Drink Sector Council. I hope that this is going to be the beginnings of a new sector deal that we have under the industrial strategy for food and drink. For me this is incredibly important. The food and drink sector is our biggest manufacturing sector in the UK. It’s bigger than automotive and aerospace put together and it’s absolutely right that we should have an industrial strategy and we should have a sector deal within the industrial strategy. I look forward to working with many of you as we develop that.
Eustice added: “The second thing to have changed quite a lot over the past year is a growing public interest and policy interest in the issue of diet and in nutrition. We’ve seen a number of steps from The Government in this area – just this week with Public Health England making further announcements in this space.
Returning more to the topic of Brexit, Eustice concluded: “However, I completely appreciate that at the moment Brexit and the nature of our departure from the European Union is dominating most people’s considerations and I can reassure you that it is also dominating our considerations in Defra, with a huge amount of work going on. Last week we published a consultation on the future agriculture policy setting out our vision for an end-state with a fit for purpose, modern policy that supports science and innovation, and technology and productivity – as well as having payments to support sustainable farming and environmental outcomes.
“We are currently working on a white paper on fisheries which will be published shortly and we anticipate producing two bills for Parliament – one on fisheries and one on agriculture – before summer recess.”
“I’m also aware that for most of you in this room our arrangement for our future trade partnership is what matters most. I know that business wants certainty and I’m afraid that we’re producing as much certainty as we can by setting out our approach, but the reality is this: when you take a big decision such as leaving the European Union there is no easy way to do it.
“We want tariff free trade to continue between us and the European Union. We want frictionless borders with a risk based approach to things such as border inspection so that we do not hold up goods at the border between the UK and the EU. We believe crucially that we can secure arrangements and customs agreements on that type by recognising mutual recognition. We do not need to have harmonised rules, we simply need to have equivalent rules – that is a fundamental principle of free trade agreements around the world and that is what we will be seeking.”