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5. Mr Frew asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to outline any discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in relation to the differences in the local agricultural sector as compared to the rest of the United Kingdom. (AQO 544/16-21)
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will answer questions 5, 6 and 13 together.
The agrifood sector is much more important to the local economy in Northern Ireland than is the case in the rest of the United Kingdom. The percentage of total employees is 5·5% in Northern Ireland compared with 2·4% in the United Kingdom as a whole. In 2014, the Northern Ireland food and drink sector generated sales of £4·5 billion and employed well over 20,000 people. Around 28% of Northern Ireland food and drink sector sales are exported compared with 10% for the United Kingdom as a whole. Therefore, future trade arrangements will be important.
Over the past weeks and months, I have met a number of Ministers to discuss the important issues that need to be resolved. Last week, I met Andrea Leadsom and hosted a visit by George Eustice to Northern Ireland. I impressed on them the unique position of our agrifood sector. We had meetings with a range of agrifood, environmental and fisheries stakeholders and departmental officials. Yesterday, the First Minister and deputy First Minister attended the first Joint Ministerial Committee meeting on exiting the European Union, where they emphasised the strategic importance of the local agrifood sector and sought assurances that we would be kept closely and directly involved in the agricultural, environmental and fisheries policy and trade agendas as they unfold.
Despite the doom-and-gloom merchants and the "Remoaners" in the House, it was really encouraging to see the EFRA Minister here last week at your invitation. You have already mentioned this, but it seemed that George Eustice was thinking outside the box. Can you give us any more specific details about support after we leave the EU?
I thank the Member for his question. As I said to him earlier, George Eustice shared some of his early thoughts on what any support package might look like. He wants to be visionary. He is looking for fresh ideas and is not closing the door on anyone with ideas on what they might look like.
We do not necessarily have to look to what we had before; there is the opportunity for something different. He mentioned the Canadian and Australian models and various other examples that could be looked at. As I have said, we do not necessarily have to pick one of those and apply it. We can develop something bespoke for the United Kingdom. As a region, we would look for some type of flexibility within the framework offered.