Welsh mule lambs grazing© Food and Drink/Rex/Shutterstock

UK sheepmeat exports jumped an impressive 14% in 2017, helping to offset the prolonged decline in domestic consumption, estimated to have fallen 5% last year alone.

The increase amounted to total shipments of 89,000t, excluding offal and skins, its highest level since 2014.

However, uncertainty around access to the 500 million consumers of the single market post Brexit, which accounted for 94% of this volume was a concern, said Welsh red meat levy body, Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC).

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The value rise of UK sheepmeat exports was even higher, up 17.4%, worth a total of £384m.

There were large increases to volumes exported to Germany, up 25%, Belgium, up 16%, Italy, up 13% and Denmark, up 13%.

Growing German sheepmeat demand was partially a product of its increasing Muslim population, a result of the migration crisis which began in 2015, who consume lamb far more regularly.

Exports outside the EU did increase, albeit from a much smaller base to 5,438t, a rise of 67%, with shipments to Hong Kong up to 3,725t, a rise of 78% and sales to Ghana up 149% to 537t.

Continued free trade with Europe would be needed to sustain this improved export success, said HCC market development manager, Rhys Llywelyn

“Over the past three years we’ve worked hand-in-hand with processors to promote Welsh Lamb and earn new business, so it’s excellent to see export growth in markets we’ve targeted such as Germany, Denmark and Italy,” said Mr Llywelyn.

“We’re looking to consolidate and build on this growth, however our current exports are helped by a competitive currency rate and the ability to trade without tariffs across a continent of 500 million consumers.

“Exports to newer markets further afield are up, but are very small compared with countries such as France and Germany where the [protected geographical indication] Welsh Lamb brand is well established, and we still don’t have access to trade with a number of key countries such as the USA and China.

“[Wales] exports over a third of our lamb each year, and much more than that at times of peak production.”

Mr Llywelyn added; “UK consumption is static at best, and overseas consumers also prefer different cuts to domestic shoppers which helps to earn value for the whole carcass.”