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Paradox: long-term vision vs short-term uncertainty

James Withers, Chief Executive at Scotland Food & Drink, blogs about the short-term and long-term outlooks for Scotland’s food & drink sector, following the release of Royal Bank of Scotland’s Food & Drink PMI® report.

Just over a decade ago, Scotland’s decision-makers were debating whether food and drink should be a priority sector in the nation’s economic strategy. That is a reminder of how far Scotland’s food and drink industry has come; from economic after-thought, to star player.

Now driving Scotland’s export performance – indeed seen as a model to follow by the rest of the UK – there is much for our farming, fishing, food and drink industry to be optimistic about.

This report confirms again that the food and drink manufacturing sector is outperforming other industries. We also know that in the past 10 years, the rate of food manufacturing growth in Scotland has been double that of the sector in England.

However, the current outlook is something of a paradox. For sure, the long-term vision for our sector to 2030 is marked by opportunity. In a world where provenance matters, where increasing wealth has consumers on a search for premium products and where a climate emergency is turning attention to sustainable forms of food production, there can be few countries now better positioned to take advantage than Scotland.

Yet, this long-term reason to be cheerful is contrasted by enormous short-term uncertainty. The political circus that is Brexit has huge implications for our sector. Our industry is resilient and talented enough to navigate any Brexit deal. But the prospect of No Deal hangs over us, with the potential for it to set our export progress back years.

With £2 billion of annual food and drink trade with our EU partners, alongside a 40,000 strong workforce of talented non-UK, EU nationals, the stakes are high.

The stark reality is that despite all the work of the last three years to prepare for a possible No Deal, the end outcome is out with our control. So, across the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership, our focus is on the factors we can control. We can control how we develop Scotland’s brand overseas – perhaps our most important asset. And, alongside exploiting untapped opportunities in the home market, we can control how we develop many of our most promising export markets.

This report is right to highlight collaboration as being a key feature of our industry’s success. In fact it has been transformational. Scottish Government and its agencies have stood squarely alongside the industry to drive growth. That means we can now point to a global team of trade specialists in 15 cities around the world, driving new opportunities for food and drink producers.

That kind of resource, twinned with innovations in technology such as the development of a national ecommerce platform for our products, mean further growth is well within our sights.

I can’t predict the short-term future for our sector, but we should be as confident in the long-term as we have ever been.


Find out more and access the full Royal Bank of Scotland Food & Drink PMI® report which shows that Scotland’s food & drink sector underpins Scotland's position as the dominant force behind UK international trade in agrifood products.

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