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Overseas trade missions to open up export markets are delivering major benefits for British growers and livestock producers, Defra secretary Liz Truss has insisted.

Ms Truss was speaking after returning from China, where she led a delegation of 80 UK food and drink businesses – the biggest ever food and drink trade mission of its kind. Defra said the visit would “turbocharge Britain’s exports to the world’s largest market”.

See also: How to get your farm products into China

The trade mission included a landmark deal agreed worth up to £100m for UK cereal growers. The agreement could lead to 750,000t of top quality British malting barley exported to Chinese breweries over the next five years, said Defra.

But the cost of the trips has come under scrutiny, especially with Defra facing another budget cut. Earlier this year, Defra spent £34,0000 on a similar ministerial visit to promote UK food and drink – including more than £16,000 for three business-class return flights to Beijing.

Ms Truss said the value of the visits far outweighed the costs. UK companies on the latest trade mission each paid their own way, she said. And she added: “The presence of a government minister can really make a difference in a market that is quite regulated as China is.”

Ministerial visits sped up the negotiation process, said Ms Truss. It was also important that government officials were on hand during the visits to answer any technical questions. “Ultimately, that means our food and farming industry in the UK has more market opportunities.”

The China deal follows the reopening of the Canadian market to UK beef exports for the first time since 1996 as part of a deal covering 19 EU member states. The agreement with the help of AHDB Beef and Lamb applies to both primal cuts and manufacturing beef.

Ms Truss said: “The market in Canada will provide an excellent opportunity to expand upon our thriving beef export market, which is already worth £374.9m to the UK economy and gives the Canadian people the opportunity to sample the same quality British beef we enjoy.”

AHDB Beef & Lamb head of global supply chain management Phil Hadley said: “Securing more export markets for our products also plays a key role in managing global market volatility. This agreement is a positive move in the right direction that we hope to build on.”