A business "ambassador" will promote UK food and drink exports overseas under plans launched drawn up by industry and Government.

The appointment of an ambassador is one of a series of measures the UK food sector and the Government hope will further drive exports from an industry that is enjoying rising overseas sales.

Many of the UK's top food and drink exports are alcoholic drinks. For example, official figures show that, in 2010, Scotch whisky generated GBP3.5bn in export sales, almost a third of the total. Meanwhile, beer, wine and gin exports totalled a further GBP1.2bn. 

Under plans devised by a steering group of Government and industry officials, the paperwork needed for exports will become "simpler", measures to protect smaller companies from not being paid will be "better advertised" and agri-food companies will be supported at international trade shows. Ministers will also lobby harder for lower tariff barriers at key export destinations. 

Closer to home, the Farming, Food and Drink Exports Action Plan will see Government help to showcase the country's products at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Agriculture minister Jim Paice said: "With surging world population growth and demand for western products, there are huge opportunities for our producers to tap into emerging markets. I'm convinced the sector can become an engine for growth for our economic recovery. It's crucial we get the right support to business at home as well as championing British products abroad."

Paul Grimwood, chairman and CEO of Nestle's operations in the UK and Ireland, co-chaired a forum that oversaw the development of the plans, said the measures would "provide small and medium enterprises with the support and confidence they need to sell the best of British food and drink around the world".

Sales of UK food and drink products reached GBP10.8bn (US$17bn) in 2010; industry association the Food and Drink Federation estimates that 2011 sales will reach almost GBP12bn. Official figures are due in March.

Last month, the FDF outlined an industry ambition for the sector to grow by 20% by 2020. Exports are seen as a vital way of meeting that target.

Melanie Leech, director general of the FDF, said the export action plan would make a "significant contribution" to that target.

"The core of food and drink manufacturing is SMEs and it can be difficult for these companies to access the help and support that they need to take that first step to export," Leech said. "This plan contains many common-sense actions that can be taken forward in a relatively short timescale to deliver results as well as those initiatives that are more complex and longer term."