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Food and drink firms urged to grasp export opportunities in China

PUBLISHED: 05:46 07 October 2016 | UPDATED: 05:46 07 October 2016

Conan Busby of Stansted Airport speaking at the LinksEast exports dinner. Picture: Jason Bye:

Conan Busby of Stansted Airport speaking at the LinksEast exports dinner. Picture: Jason Bye:

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East Anglian food and drink producers have been urged to tap into the vast export potential of fast-growing Chinese markets.

LinksEast, an organisation founded to build communication and trade between East Anglia and the Far East, hosted industry and government representatives during a meeting at the Honingham Thorpe offices of buying group Anglia Farmers.

With the focus on food and drink exports, those attending heard that cultural and economic changes were creating huge new markets for the region’s produce.

Among the speakers was Chris Cotton, director of the China-Britain Business Council, who said China had now overtaken the US to become the world’s largest grocery market. He said: “The growth rate is still one of the highest in the world, but more significant is the growth in consumerism.

“There are well over 100m people classified as middle-classed, compared to 90m in the USA.

“The modern Chinese consumer has more disposable income. Urbanisation has produced a more affluent middle class with an appetite for more tastes and flavours.

“All in all it is a very exciting opportunity for food and drink producers. We need to up our game and make sure we don’t get left behind. The opportunity is there to be taken.”

Conan Busby, head of cargo and business aviation at Stansted airport, said the addition of China Southern Cargo to the airport’s schedules last year had opened an important new trade route for the region.

He said Stansted handled exports to China worth £354m last year – a growing amount, but still a small fraction of the UK’s £18bn of exports to the country.

“It is absolutely vital to grow this trade lane,” he said. “Heathrow and Gatwick are full, so there is an opportunity to use this capacity in the region.”

Thinley Topden, regional deputy director of the Department for International Trade (DIT), said there was a particular opportunity for meats like pork and fish, although there were still barriers for meats like beef and lamb.

“In the first six months of this year, exports to China from this country had increased by 61pc on the same period last year,” he said. “There are some challenges, and import duties are prohibitive for some, but there are big opportunities here.”

Mr Topden said the DIT is working to develop a trade strategy for the UK, and has established practical support for exporters including more than 30 overseas trade advisors in the East of England.

After the meeting, Anglia Farmers chief executive Clarke Willis said: “The first aim was to enthuse people that there is a big market across there. “There is a network in place and a real will from government, so we are pushing against an open door. For the large food and drink companies, it is relatively easy to engage because they have got the scale, but what we need to do is put together a simple package where all the smaller companies can get involved in a collective to export their goods, so we can get a freight package together for them.”

What do Chinese consumers want?

Speakers at the LinksEast event highlighted several food products which have seen particular growth in the last 12 months.

• Beer, wine and spirits are increasingly popular. However, there are still barriers for cider and fruit juice, which have a 40pc import duty.

• Pork and seafood exports are growing, although the markets for beef and lamb are more difficult to access.

• High quality biscuits and chocolate are in demand.

• Cheese products have seen a “huge increase in consumption”.

• Milk powder exports are still high – particularly after the major Chinese health scare relating to baby formula in 2008.

Are you exploring new export markets? Contact chris.hill@archant.co.uk.

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