29 October 1999

Welsh near panic

PROSPECTS of a trade war with France has caused near panic among Welsh upland sheep farmers.

Any blockade of French ports would seriously disrupt peak exports of carcass and live lambs to France and other Continental countries. Given the narrow margins involved, the cost of diverting shipments through other ports could make trading uneconomic.

The Farmers Union of Wales is pressing the government to take tough diplomatic action against the French, but fears that an all-out trade war would be disastrous for sheep producers already on the brink of bankruptcy.

"I do not blame people for calling for a boycott of French goods, but, with Welsh agriculture in its current critical condition, any escalation could be very damaging for Welsh farmers," said FUW president, Bob Parry.

Hugh Richards, his opposite number in the NFU Wales-Cymru, agreed that French actions over British beef were both illegal and hypocritical. Consumers who wanted to respond should be given the chance to choose products clearly labelled British. But he too cautioned against doing anything that might harm critically important lamb exports.

Both union leaders believe that the UKs exports of live and carcass lamb, worth £22m a year, are threatened at a time when the market is awash with later born lambs from upland farms in Wales, where 80% of farmed land is classified as less favoured.

Keeping Channel ports open is particularly important for the export of super light mountain lambs destined for Mediterranean countries like Italy and Greece, especially as both demand and prices improved in early October after being pegged below 1998 levels for four months.

Peter Rogers, the Conservatives National Assembly agricultural spokesman, attacked the government for having "taken leave of its senses" for allowing sewage-contaminated meat to be imported from France. Ministers should place official sanctions on French pigmeat, beef and chicken.

Fellow Tory Assembly member Alun Cairns urged every consumer in Wales not to buy French goods until Welsh beef could be traded freely in France. &#42