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Scotland's food and drink exports significant increase in 2016. Scotland's rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing says the increase shows the importance of Scotland's retaining access to European market.

Food and drink exports from Scotland grew by 421 million pounds (522 million US dollars) in 2016 to a record 5.5 billion pounds (6.82 million US dollars), the Scottish Parliament announced Sunday in Edinburgh,

The latest figures show an 8 percent increase in the value of exports in the sector over the past year.

The SNP-run government in Scotland is currently campaigning for a breakaway from the United Kingdom if open access to EU markets is blocked or reduced in Brexit negotiations.

Figures in a government report show that food exports alone grew by 22 percent to 1.5 billion pounds (1.86 billion US dollars).

The fish and seafood category recorded the largest overall increase, up 26 percent compared with 2015, with Europe the leading export destination.

Exports to EU countries were worth 2.3 billion pounds (2.85 billion US dollars) overall, up 133 million pounds (165 million US dollars) last year.

The figures come ahead of the launch of a new industry strategy on March 23, which will outline plans to support and grow the sector to 2030, said government spokesman in Edinburgh,

"We shouldn't have to face the choice between remaining as part of the UK and the EU single market. The pursuit of a hard Brexit is a major threat to this success and these figures show why we must work to protect Scotland's place in Europe," said Secretary Ewing.

Admitting that the European market still takes a bulky share of the exports, James Withers, CEO of Scotland Food & Drink, says they are aiming wide.

"We have now doubled food exports since 2007, transforming the level of trade in growing markets like Asia. That is crucial to extend our footprint beyond just Europe which is still the destination for over 70 percent of our food exports," said Withers.