IN giving evidence to a powerful committee of AMs, Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) chief executive Gwyn Howells has acknowledged that preparing for four different Brexit deadlines has been tiresome for the industry over the past year, but emphasised that free and frictionless trade with Europe was still crucial for the lamb and beef industries.

Addressing a meeting of the External Affairs Committee in the Senedd, Mr Howells discussed the extensive contingency planning that HCC and others, in co-ordination with Welsh Government, had undertaken since 2016.

“Welsh meat exporters have been consistent in raising alarm at the prospect of massive WTO-level tariffs if the UK leaves the EU without a deal,” he said.

“However non-tariff barriers such as additional paperwork and delays at port are also a concern, and in the event of a Brexit deal a lengthy transition period may be needed to get these issues right.

"It was good to have the opportunity to discuss this matter with AMs.”

He added: “Companies, as well as customs authorities will have to be aware of what’s needed in terms of non-tariff barriers, but with exporters having had to prepare for several political deadlines already, ‘Brexit Fatigue’ is an issue.”

Mr Howells referred to collaborative work, such as the Welsh Government-funded Enhanced Export Programme, which was showing dividends in growing new markets.

But he warned that this could not replace free access to established European customers.

“Over the past year, we’ve seen trade begin with a number of new countries such as Japan, and there are promising signs that Welsh lamb exports to the Middle East will be substantially up in 2019, partly thanks to HCC’s ongoing work in the region reinforced by Welsh Government help,” he said. “However, the lamb trade to Europe is worth over £120 million a year, so continued free trade with our nearest neighbours is vital whatever political solution is found.”