Silence of the Lambs

In an earlier article related to the closure of the Ford engine works in Bridgend, my colleague Lee recognised that Wales is over-reliant on a limited number of high profile multinational employers that have no allegiance to Wales and that we should instead develop a network of locally owned small-medium sized enterprises producing quality goods.

Fortunately we already have such an industry in Wales – Welsh Lamb – but whose very existence is now under threat.

The Product

Welsh lamb has a deserved reputation for high quality meat, and in 2003 was granted Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status by the EU. This ensures that only lamb reared in Wales can be labelled and sold as Welsh Lamb, and also ensures the traceability of Welsh Lamb which may be processed outside of Wales. The name Welsh Lamb is synonymous with quality and taste and is recognised across the world – its very name adds value to the product

The Industry

There are around 10 million sheep in Wales and sheep farming directly employs an estimated 20,000 people across Wales, plus a larger number in related industries such as processing, transport, packaging etc. The majority of farms and related businesses are family run and provide employment in rural remote areas.

The value of Welsh Lamb sold each year is around £600 million.  Around 5% of production is consumed in Wales,  but with 95% exported outside of Wales.   Of this around 55% is sold within the UK,  35% sold to EU and 5% exported worldwide.

Brexit & The EU

Welsh lamb is currently exported to EU without any import tariff or other barrier to trade. By contrast imports from outside the EU (for example from Australia & New Zealand) attract a 40% tariff and a lot of red tape, and imports are severely restricted in volume.

In a worst case ‘no-deal’ or WTO Brexit,  Welsh Lamb would see the volume of its EU exports plummet as 40% tariffs are applied – while the UK market would be flooded by unrestricted cheap imports from Australia & New Zealand, and it is estimated that prices could fall by 35%.  While low prices might seem attractive in the supermarket they would be devastating for Welsh farmers.

In addition, farmers are heavily reliant on Farm Business Grants administered by the Welsh Government under its Rural Development Programme for Wales, which is funded by the EU. No one should be under any illusion about the UK Government replacing the EU grants after Brexit.

The Future

While Ein Gwlad recognises and respects the will of the Welsh electorate in wanting to leave the EU, that does not mean that we support the ‘no-deal’ nirvana that some of the Tory leadership campaigners now seem to advocate. It is essential that our Westminster politicians grow up and negotiate a fair and manageable Brexit – because a ‘no-deal’ crash-out will devastate our farming industry, as well as our steel industry and our remaining manufacturing industry. We need to either maintain our position within the Customs Union – or at least negotiate an equivalent trade deal with the EU.

Welsh Lamb is already an acknowledged brand and we should build on this and develop more value-added rural businesses – in this earlier post we suggested developing a food cooperative to market the many excellent products that Wales already sells.

As a side note, our farming industry is generally established in rural areas which are often Welsh speaking. Destruction of the Welsh Lamb industry would destroy the sustainability of many rural communities and with it the viability of the Welsh language itself.

This would be the real Silence of the Lambs…..

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