Environment secretary Owen Paterson is expected to announce the appointment of a full-time agricultural expert in Beijing early in the New Year to assist with growing UK food exports to China.
The news was revealed by Charles Baughan, md of the small Devon-based family sausage producer, Westaway Sausages, who accompanied Paterson on his recent trade mission to China.
During the trip Paterson informed Baughan that he had taken on board the pig industry’s concerns about the need to appoint a full-time official in China to aid UK exports to the huge potential Chinese market and was looking to fill the agricultural expert role “as a priority”.
Baughan had been invited to join the trade delegation after meeting Paterson and prime minister David Cameron at the North Devon Show.
Prevented from exporting
Baughan also said Westaway sausages – which he claimed was the first UK company to secure pig meat exports to Japan – expected to begin its first direct exports of sausages to China in the next two to three months. Westaway has supplied products to retail outlets in China in the past via a distributor in Hong Kong, but had been prevented from exporting directly because of the need to have veterinary licences for processed pork products, which are approved by the Chinese authorities.
Westaway is a small family business based in Newton Abbot, which has reportedly been making sausages for over 100 years. It is believed to have a turnover of around £3.5M. In 2011 it invested £500,000 in expanding the business by installing a new production line and refrigeration equipment.
Baughan said the appointment of an expert in Beijing was crucial in helping many other small UK food firms to develop export markets in China, before other EU countries beat the UK to this lucrative potential market.
BPEX, the levy-paying body representing pig producers, has been urging the government to appoint a full-time agricultural expert in Beijing for some time. Speaking to an industry audience in London in November, BPEX chairman Stewart Houston expressed his frustration at the government's delay in making an appointment, given that BPEX's parent organisation, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, had offered to co-fund the Beijing specialist.