Sales of UK food and drink overseas tops £20bn for first time

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Overseas sales of UK food and drink hit £20 billion for the first time in 2016, with total exports growing by almost 10% over the year.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said exports showed "no sign of slowing" in the wake of the EU referendum vote for Brexit in June.

Unveiling the figures ahead of a speech to the National Farmers' Union conference in Birmingham, Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom announced she was expanding expert support for businesses considering selling their goods on the global market.

Total food and drink exports hit £20.1 billion in 2016, up from £18 billion the previous year, according to HM Revenue and Customs figures.

Exports grew in nine out of 10 of the UK's leading export markets - Ireland, USA, France, Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, China and Hong Kong.

China entered the top 10 for the first time, with export growth of nearly 50%, including a rise in pork sales of more than 70% to £43 million. 

India was identified as a priority market due to growing demand for Scotch whisky, while overall food and drink sales to Malaysia grew by 143%.

Whisky made up more than 20% of all food and drink exports, with global sales rising by 3% to more than £4 billion. Other big sellers included chocolate, beer, salmon, cheese and wine. 

Ms Leadsom said that only one in five food producers were currently exporting, and she was stepping up support to help generate an additional £2.9 billion in exports over the next five years.

"It's great to see the global appetite for British food and drink continues to grow - thanks to our well-established reputation for taste, quality and high animal health and welfare standards," she said.

"I want to see more companies taking advantage of these opportunities, which is why we're expanding our team of trade experts to support UK businesses, encouraging them to take the leap and share their quality produce with the world."