Less than 24 hours ago, the UK Parliament rejected Theresa May’s Brexit ‘deal’ with the European Union. A few hours later, I sat down with Laura Clarke, the British High Commissioner to New Zealand, to discuss opportunities to develop long-term collaboration with New Zealand’s agritech sector. The business of business goes on.

Whatever the final ‘Brexit’ outcome, the need to produce more nutritious food sustainably is as important in Britain as it is in New Zealand. Sustainability in this instance has two meanings. Sustainability for the environment and sustainability for producers’ incomes to be able to continue farming. People need food. Producers need to know they can produce that food profitably.

British Consulate Image

Dr Kate Calcott, Laura Clark, British High Commissioner to NZ, Peter Wren-Hilton

So what might immediate UK engagement with NZ look-like? In March, a delegation from Innovate UK is visiting the country to learn more about ruminant livestock and some aspects of our horticulture sector. The delegation will be visiting Central District Fieldays in Palmerston North, Wellington & Lincoln, and will be using their time here to speak to industry representatives, research institutes and NZ government agencies.

In June, the UK Department of International Trade (DIT) is planning to bring a large delegation of agritech-related businesses over to National Fieldays at Mystery Creek. Yesterday, we discussed areas of common interest to help identify New Zealand farmer & growers needs. I talked about some of the current conversation around sustainability and environmental impact. Could some of these inbound companies provide solutions to address these issues? It is clear that the UK has undertaken some significant research into our sector. Identifying potential synergies was a key theme for the meeting.

One underlying challenge facing UK farmers is the future of subsidies. For a number of years, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has supported farming sectors across Europe with subsidies. CAP is no small potato (pardon the pun). It accounts for about 38% of the entire EU budget. Given New Zealand’s decision to abolish all farming subsidies back in 1984, the UK is keen to learn from some of the hard lessons learnt here. This discussion provides on-going and future opportunities for New Zealand’s agritech sector; these could be significant.

For some context here, last month I attended the Agtech Nexus Europe conference in Dublin. There, the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, provided an insight into some future thinking of such funding. It was clear that whether the UK is inside or outside the EU, the level of CAP subsidies, going forward, is going to drop. This will therefore remain an underlying challenge for UK (and EU) farmers and an opportunity for some of the innovation, technology & IP that New Zealand’s agritech sector has developed.

The discussion with the team at UK DIT is ongoing. We are looking at ways in which we can build a collaborative framework that will not only support our respective agritech sectors, but also provide NZ & UK farmers and growers with the tools necessary to produce more nutritious food sustainably. This discussion maps the current conversations we are having with partners in mainland Europe. Nutritious sustainable food production has no boundaries.

The key takeaway I took away from yesterday’s meeting is that the UK is still very much open for business. The country is keen to engage with New Zealand’s agritech sector. Whilst politicians in Westminster will no doubt prove to be a distraction over the coming weeks, the needs of UK farmers will not change. A bilateral approach can help address these and the time to act is now. Yesterday’s meeting was just one step in that process.

The business of business in our world goes on.