RHYS Llywelyn, market development manager for Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), has used a keynote address at a major agriculture conference to outline the challenges that Brexit uncertainty poses for red meat exports.

PGI Welsh Lamb and PGI Welsh Beef are two of Wales’s most iconic food brands. The Welsh red meat industry is currently underpinned by exports; particularly in the case of lamb where a third of the country’s production is exported to the EU.

Rhys Llywelyn told industry leaders at the CARAS (Council for Awards of Royal Agricultural Societies) Wales conference in Aberystwyth on January 26 that the uncertainty over ‘Deal or No Deal’ – whether tariff-free trade with Europe would continue after 2019 – posed unique challenges for promoting red meat.

“Exports are very important for our industry as they help to maintain prices during times of peak production. In the case of lamb in particular it also gives the chance to achieve carcase balance, with export customers preferring different cuts to UK consumers,” explained Rhys.

He said that overseas trade was up in 2017, with encouraging growth in markets such as Germany, but the future of this business depended on whether a Free Trade Agreement between Europe and the UK was struck before Brexit takes effect in March 2019.

“The uncertainty creates a major dilemma for HCC in prioritising where to spend scarce resources,” said Rhys. “If a trade agreement is reached, maintaining our existing relationships with retailers and foodservice companies in Europe will be imperative. However, if there’s no deal, the prospect of high tariffs to export to the EU under WTO rules means that we must also prioritise developing newer markets further afield, and also make more of the domestic market.”

“We’ve been helped by support from the Welsh Government for our enhanced export plan, but this is a challenging period,” he added. “Free Trade Agreements, and also obtaining market access to countries where we currently don’t have permission to export red meat such as Japan and Saudi Arabia, are out of our hands. But we’ll continue to work on several fronts, alongside our farmers and processors, to maximise opportunities over the next two years.”

In order to help farmers prepare their businesses for Brexit, HCC is co-organising a roadshow series of meetings with the AHDB, including on February 8 in Welshpool.