Following a frustrating stop-start harvest, the relentless rain in September has made things, in East Yorkshire at least, decidedly more “grim up north” than “God’s own county”.
So a couple of days “down south” last week provided an interesting change of scenery, and I don’t just mean the landscape.
One of the things that struck me immediately as I drove down the A34 between Oxford and Winchester was the sheer number of car transporters on the roads, many loaded up with shiny new Range Rovers.
My initial reaction was that Messrs Flindt et al must have had a much better harvest than us this year.
But joking aside, this was on an altogether different scale; akin to the 4×4 equivalent of a Serengeti wildebeest migration.
And then it dawned on me that this wasn’t domestic consumerism dialled up to 11, but a commendable example of British (albeit, Indian-owned) export success.
This precious cargo was, of course, en route to Southampton, to be shipped to dealerships far further afield than Salisbury or Basingstoke.
Buoyed up by a weaker pound, exports of premium British 4x4s are clearly booming, which should be a great source of pride to us all.
The world, I thought fleetingly, is clearly our oyster. But no sooner had I started to hum Rule Britannia to myself, my jingoistic bubble was burst by the breaking news of Boeing’s hissy-fit over Bombardier’s bid to sell UK-built aircraft to a US airline.
The USA was, after all, supposedly one of the legion of future trading partners that would flock to us once we cast off the yoke of EU membership.
A former Defra secretary of state and prominent Brexiteer even suggested that a trade deal with the USA would be concluded “swiftly and amicably”, over a cup of tea perhaps, once we were out. Well, Mr Paterson, how do you see that one playing out now?
Life outside the EU
The US has never and will not do swift and amicable deals with anyone, unless of course it involves something they really want, like Range Rovers, or single malt, or Saudi Arabia.
On the other hand, for stuff they make lots of themselves, like airliners and agricultural commodities… well, you only have to look at Bombardier’s experience for a sobering foretaste of what life outside the EU has in store.
Whisky aside, British food exports never have and probably never will amount to a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, because we simply don’t have the surplus land required to compete in major commodity markets.
Consequently, it is naïve to expect too much from whatever hastily cobbled together trade agreements are made, primarily to protect financial services and high-value manufacturing sectors that create lots of high-value urban jobs and sponsor party conferences… that sort of thing.
Import substitution, on the other hand, while perhaps less glamorous than exporting luxury cars, is equally important from a trade balance perspective and one area on which we can and should be focusing our attention.
Bananas and red wine aside, we have massive trade gaps in too many things we are potentially capable of producing as well as anyone, and it amazes me that we aren’t more jealously protective of our home market; one that pretty much every major food exporter in the world is eyeing up as we speak.
Whatever the reasons, be they simply down to business competitiveness or a lack of marketing nous, we need to address them and quickly.
The short-, medium- and long-term success of our industry lies at home, not in far-flung corners of the “Anglosphere”.