With COVID-19 infection rates and hospital admissions looking like they are now under control, we must now look to how we can safely get our economy up and running again.
This will require an enormous effort. So far, the UK Government has risen to the Coronavirus challenge by investing billions of pounds in Scotland. The HMRC furlough scheme alone is paying 80% of the wages of more than 628,000 workers north of the border.
The next stage is to provide stimulus for the economy, and the Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to announce a range of measures in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Department for International Trade (DIT) yesterday announced a ‘bounce-back’ fund which will directly benefit Scotland’s agriculture and food and drink sector.
Scottish food and drink exports are in demand all over the world, generating £14bn for the economy each year and employment for about 115,000 people.
The package of measures includes unprecedented help for small and medium enterprises (SMEs)
to allow them to capitalise on trade agreements being negotiated with Japan, the US, Australia, and New Zealand.
Last year, the UK exported £2.4bn of food and drink to the US, £312m to Japan, £453m to Australia and £58m to New Zealand.
Now businesses will be encouraged and assisted to grow their trade activity overseas.
Events include a virtual buyer trial, a ‘smart distance’ selling process and exporting masterclass webinars. An ‘accelerator’ pilot scheme for SMEs will be launched to boost international e-commerce.
The plan also sets up the first agri-food counsellor serving the Gulf States, a role to support the UK food and drink industry and represent the interests of UK businesses already exporting or planning to export to the region.
All of this is designed to help our food and drink producers to bounce back from the impact of Coronavirus.
It will also help our excellent food and drink producers to grow into new markets and strengthen existing relationships.
It is another example of the UK Government doing all it can – not only to manage the initial impact of COVID-19, but to ensure that the economy recovers as quickly as possible.
Restarting and expanding exports from the UK will play a key role in that recovery.
And, of course, striking new trade deals does not mean that we are going to compromise on our existing high environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards.
For example – the ban on hormone-injected beef and chlorine washed chicken is already enshrined in UK law. Despite scaremongering to the contrary, our domestic and import standards will be not be reduced in any trade deal.