The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has outlined the industry’s key priorities in the Brexit negotiations in an open letter to incoming prime minister Theresa May.

The organisation said it was important to retain full access to European consumers, suppliers, employees and trade deals for the UK’s largest manufacturing sector.

It said that retaining access to the single market was a chief priority, while it also wanted continued access to the 53 free-trade agreements already in existence, without renegotiation.

In a statement, the FDF said food companies also wanted to secure the status of EU nationals currently in the country (who make up approximately 27% of food sector workers) and ensure migration policy reflected the need for an estimated 130,000 new workers by 2024.

Reflecting the significance of the UK’s food and agricultural sector to the exit negotiations, May named pro-Brexit MP and leadership rival Andrea Leadsom as the new UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Key cabinet appointments responsible for international trade have been given to pro-Brexit members of the Conservative Party: Liam Fox is minister for international trade; David Davis is secretary for exiting the EU; and Boris Johnson is foreign secretary. Jeremy Hunt remains as health secretary.

Last month, the FDF warned members not to engage with health charities on product reformulation.