The total volume of fresh and frozen sheep meat imported into the United Kingdom in the past twelve months saw a substantial rise of 17 per cent.

These figures - from Hybu Cig Cymru - Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) - should serve as a stark warning to the UK Government, the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) has said.

GB prime lamb deadweight prices have fallen by 90 pence per kilo year on year and are now trending below the five year average despite buoyant markets during the pandemic.

Speaking after a meeting of the FUW’s presidential team at which members’ alarm regarding the fall in lamb prices coupled with massive increases in input costs were highlighted, FUW president Glyn Roberts said: “Ministers, MPs and Lords who were supportive of the UK Government’s liberal approach to trade negotiations with New Zealand and Australia argued at the time that the Welsh sheep industry should not be concerned as those countries were well below the existing import quota limits and this was unlikely to change.

“We warned then that this was a naïve or deliberately misleading point of view that failed to take account of how global markets, exchange rates and other factors could rapidly change, leading to increases in import volumes that have a negative impact on UK markets.”

FUW presidential team members highlighted that the significant increase in lamb imports from New Zealand in 2022 demonstrated precisely this point, while acknowledging that other factors were also at play in the lamb market.

Volumes received from the largest source of imported sheepmeat - New Zealand - were 3 per cent higher than 2021. Significantly, though, much more than usual of this volume arrived in the form of frozen product as opposed to fresh. Frozen lamb accounted for 86 per cent of the total New Zealand fresh and frozen sheepmeat imports, whereas in 2021 the equivalent figure was 57 per cent.

Mr Roberts said: “We are now locked into trade deals with New Zealand and Australia that will phase out import limits for key Welsh products altogether, with few safeguards for our own producers.

“These deals are seen as laughably liberal by other countries given the vanishingly small benefits the Government’s own figures show they are likely to bring for the UK economy.”

Mr Roberts reiterated the FUW’s longstanding call for the UK Government to revise its policy on international trade and place UK food security and standards at the top of the agenda - particularly given the vulnerability of lengthy supply chains and reliance on imports exposed by the pandemic and Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

He added: “The Government’s own impact analyses make it clear that these deals will see production and prices undermined, with losses of hundreds of millions for the food and farming sector under certain scenarios.

“Such losses would be severely compounded if similarly liberal trade deals are signed with other countries we are currently negotiating with and may seek trade deals with in future.”

The total volume of fresh and frozen beef imported to the UK in 2022 stood at 233,300 tonnes – a slight decrease of four per cent on the year.

Fresh and frozen pig meat imported to the UK remained relatively stable on the year at 320,500 tonnes – with imports of bacon and sausages featuring in the increase.

The value of total red meat exports in 2022 (which includes offal and processed product) were significantly higher than previous years at £1.8 billion. A total of 78,800 tonnes of sheep meat left the UK during 2022, up by almost eight per cent year-on-year. It was worth £503.5 million, some 13 per cent higher than 2021. Beef and veal exports rose by 17 per cent on the year, with value significantly increasing by 46 per cent to £640 million due to higher cattle farmgate prices on our domestic market. Total pig meat exports were up ten per cent to £623.2 million, with volume rising by seven per cent to 372,600 tonnes.