Arabs want Welsh lamb

Welsh meat bosses are blazing a trail on the export front after reopening a key market in the Middle East.

The United Arab Emirates has agreed to lift its long-term ban on European sheep-meat exclusively for Welsh lamb, announced Welsh Assembly rural affairs minister Carwyn Jones, at the Royal Welsh Show last week.

The move follows intense negotiations over the last 18 months between the Dubai authorities, Jones and HCC - Meat Promotion Wales.

Jones said: "Last February, we set out with the sole intention of reopening the Middle Eastern market to Welsh meats and our efforts have paid off."

Gwyn Howells, chief executive of HCC, said the decision could well pave the way into other markets in the region. "It's undoubtedly the gateway for the other Gulf states, and there are other big markets for us to try and capture a share of," he said. The market has the potential to open at a prime time for the Welsh sector. Between September and November, imports from New Zealand and Australia are on the wane, while Welsh production is starting to hit a peak. "It fits in very well," said Howells.

HCC targeted UAE after conducting some market research, he said: "We saw there was a gap in the market for a high quality product during that period.

"The reason we went for it is that it's an affluent society and lamb is the meat of choice at all levels. They produce 25% of what they eat, so there's a huge gap in self sufficiency. We won't compete on price out there, but on quality."

The next step is a meet the buyer event, which they will be holding in September, matching up the Welsh exporters with importers in Dubai.

"It'll be small to start with, it's a new market after all, but people want the product and it's just a case of getting the supply lines sorted," said Howells.

There have also been discussions on opening up the market for Welsh beef, he revealed. "HCC will now work with the minister to continue to explore other global commercial opportunities for our PGI-status products."

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