China’s appetite for British milk, pork, Yorkshire tea and salmon led to a 12 per cent jump in food exports to the country last year but the industry says it needs more government support to exploit rising overseas demand.

Steve Barnes, economic and commercial services director at the Food and Drink Federation, the industry body, said the Chinese market was particularly attractive because it complemented British eating habits. “The Chinese diet is different — they tend to eat things that we don’t consume, like chicken feet, pigs’ faces, trotters and offal,” Mr Barnes Said.

British pork producers were waiting for approval from the Chinese authorities to export pig trotters, a trade that was “potentially huge”, Mr Barnes said.

Outside the EU, China is the UK’s second-largest food export market — after the US — with £217.8m of exports last year, according to figures released on Monday. Hong Kong was the third-largest outside the EU.

The government hopes to boost the value of exports after recently appointing its first agriculture and food counsellor in China. Elizabeth Truss, minister for the environment, said in January the appointment would “strengthen our trade and negotiating presence in China and help UK businesses take advantage of the vast opportunities the Chinese market represents”.

Food and non-alcoholic drink exports grew overall by 2.6 per cent to £12.8bn last year, compared with 2013, led by salmon, chocolate and cheese, which are the biggest export products by value.

Dairy exports, driven by cheese, rose about 9 per cent to £1.4bn. After a torrid start to the year for dairy farmers because of falling milk prices, George Eustice, farming minister, said it was “particularly encouraging to see UK dairy exports at a record high as our farmers seize new opportunities to export”.

Exports to Algeria almost trebled to £123.8m, driven by a big jump in wheat exports after a poor quality crop in France, which usually supplies Algeria.

The UK runs a food and non-alcoholic trade deficit of £22.3bn that could be reduced through what Mr Barnes called “the huge untapped potential” of food exports. “Support is starting to emerge and we’re making progress but we would like to see more backing for exporting food and drink companies to bring us into line with our European neighbours,” he said.

He warned that exports this year were likely to be hampered by the strength of sterling against the euro, following trends towards the end of last year.

Although food and drink exports began 2014 strongly with an 8 per cent rise, they grew more weakly in the next two quarters and fell 1 per cent in the final three months of the year, compared with the final quarter of 2013.

This mirrored the rise in the strength of the pound, making exports to eurozone countries more expensive. The EU accounted for 73 per cent of food and drink exports, down by two percentage points on 2013.

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