Government must ensure the "continuation of critical imports and exports of food and drink at this critical time", voices from across the supply chain have said.
A letter, signed by Food and Drink Federation (FDF) chief executive Ian Wright and co-signed by 31 leading industry figures and chief executives including Kate Nicholls of UKHospitality, James Withers of Scotland Food & Drink and Gordon Polson of the Federation of Bakers, says that Covid-19 is the "biggest threat this country has faced in decades" and that its devastating impact was being seen all over the world.
It went on to say that the UK's food and farming industries were working "hand-in-hand with departments across the government on a daily basis" to ensure that "consumers have continued confidence that there will be adequate supplies of food and drink".
The letter, issued by the FDF which represents the UK's biggest manufacturing sector, continued: "This global crisis highlights just how integral food and farming industries are to our country's critical national infrastructure and government has rightly acknowledged the crucial role played by the more than four million hidden heroes in every community that work across the UK's essential farm-to-fork supply chain.
"Our industry cannot operate in isolation if we are to continue providing world-leading quality, choice and value for money. Our farmers rely on imported feed and need access to other markets to sell their products, especially where demand in the UK is insufficient. Our manufacturers rely on exports to grow their businesses and imports to complement their use of domestically produced ingredients and raw materials. Our restaurants and retailers need access to a full range of goods all year round to balance seasonality and meet consumer demand."
The letter stated that the continuation of trading through open markets will also be "absolutely vital" to help aid the global economic recovery and protect the economies of many supplying countries. It revealed that there had been instances in other countries where the introduction of trade restrictions may have had the "unfortunate consequence of impeding the flow of goods between nations".
The UK food and drink industry, exports more than £23 billion of quality products each year which provide not only an outlet for outstanding British products all over the world but are essential to ensure UK businesses have access to working capital by allowing movements of ingredients and raw materials to neighbouring countries for further processing.