You may not be aware but this week has been Ukrainian Week in London, a major initiative launched by Bate Toms, Chairman of the British-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce (BUCC), and Yuriy Kosyuk, founder and Chairman of MHP, an agricultural company listed on the London Stock Exchange. As part of the week I attended a business event at the Savoy (Tuesday) organised by the Finanical Times and the British-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce. The aim of the day was to advance opportunities for Ukrainian businesses and to inform British companies of potential import opportunities both now and after Brexit.
I admit that my knowledge and experience of Ukraine and Ukrainian business was somewhat patchy before the day. I had preconceptions of enormous fields of grains and black soils, and knew of a difficult relationship with Russia, but beyond that very little. Google could only provide so much information on the train up to London.
The event was impeccably organised and several hundred people were present. Keynote speakers included UK Secretary of State for Business Liam Fox who was keen to foster good relations with Ukraine as well as usher forth a position of strength against Russia and send a message that the UK’s future would be one of championing free trade. Beyond that however we learned little new regarding post Brexit relationships.
Clearly corruption remains an issue in the country, although significant leaps and bounds have been made through the legal system to get on top of it. The message was that Ukraine isn’t quite there yet but it’s moving in the right direction and investors should not be put off. Sir Malcolm Rifkind raised a thought provoking point when he said that Ukraine needs to be careful whether it follows the ‘rule of law’ or ‘rule by law’, making comparisons to Russia and China in the latter case.
As important as farming may be to me and many others in the countryside day to day the reality is that it makes up only a small part of the overall economy. One significant differential between the Ukrainian and the UK economies is the significance of agriculture. Delegates were reminded that over 40% of total exports have their origins in agriculture. This therefore set the frame for many of the interests present. I spoke to Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food Olga Trofimtseva about the challenges and opportunities faced by Ukrainian agriculture:
Clearly Ukraine is looking to be far more outward looking moving in to the future and this is why these kinds of events are being organised, to inform Brits and companies in other countries of the potential benefits of working with Ukrainian business.
However, throughout the day I couldn’t help the SME farmer hat wander into my mind at times. If post-Brexit British farmers are to have higher levels of regulation and expectation than their colleagues in other countries, how can a farm business such as mine survive in a world of commodity production driven and dominated by the larger agricultural nations, such as Ukraine?
I spoke to Guy Smith, Deputy President of the National Farmers Union.
All in all, it was an intriguing insight into the world of global trade and agricultural opportunity. Clearly Ukraine is on the up, or that was the impression I received on the day. The packed room of delegates included representatives from a range of big and small companies, including UK businesses already working in Ukraine or with Ukrainian companies. The challenge is now in Defra’s camp to ensure British agriculture is able to compete in this brave new world, standing up to the Department of Business and the Treasury to achieve balance and fairness, and a thriving future British ag sector.