Lamb raised on the lush grasslands, mountains and marshlands of Wales is known for its tenderness and melt-in-the-mouth texture and regarded as among the finest in the world.
Now, Welsh farmers hope that its distinctive flavour could become popular in the Middle East amid trade talks between the UK and the Gulf Co-operation Council.
Wales’s mild climate and mineral-rich soil form part of a landscape ideal for grazing.
Salt marsh lamb, among the industry’s niche products, gets its unique taste from the environment on which the animals graze — the salt marshes of Wales — and is sought after by meat connoisseurs.
David Jones, a Conservative MP representing the farming constituency of Clwyd West in north Wales, is optimistic that diners in the Gulf can be tempted by the local delicacies on offer in his area, but appreciates that work still needs to be done to capitalise on the trade deal being pursued.
Mr Jones, who chairs the UAE all-party parliamentary group in the British Parliament, hopes continuing trade talks between the UK and theGCC will lead to a lucrative deal which will remove the 5 per cent tariff on meat imports into the bloc. The change, he argued, would open the door for the UK to take advantage of the “massive upsurge in interest” in British lamb in the region.
If the UK-GCC negotiations result in a deal — projected to boost trade by up to £15.8 billion ($19.1bn) — new markets could open while existing ones expand in Britain's agricultural industry, and Welsh lamb could become a mainstay on menus at high-end restaurants in the Gulf, he hopes.
The UAE, the main destination for foreign tourists in the GCC, has the potential to emerge as a leading foreign market for Welsh lamb under an agreement, Mr Jones says.
“Welsh lamb is to sheep meat what Bollinger is to Champagne,” he told The National. “It’s the very best.
“I know from having spoken to friends and colleagues in the UAE that there is a demand for high-quality lamb and other sheep-meat products.
“There are a lot of customers in the GCC obviously with large disposable incomes, who are prepared to pay for high-quality produce.”
The GCC represents the UK’s fourth-largest export market outside of the European Union, with exports of food and drink worth £625 million in 2021.
The UK government projects a free-trade deal with the bloc — comprising the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar — would boost trade by between £8.6bn and £15.8bn by 2035.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused a slump in global trade, exports of British lamb to GCC countries had rocketed by 652 per cent from 2018 to 2019.
Mr Jones said a pact would allow the UK to take advantage of the “massive upsurge in interest” in British lamb in the region.
But he said the main obstacles to seamless trade with the GCC were hygiene requirements and technical barriers held by the GCC.
“A free-trade agreement will resolve these difficulties and make the flow of trade far better between Britain and the GCC, so this is something that we’re very much looking forward to,” he said.
A relaxation of trade barriers would also benefit the UK's dairy industry by paving the way for an increase in British cheese imports to the Gulf markets. This could be particularly popular among Dubai hoteliers catering for British tourists who seek home comforts when on holiday abroad.
Gulf diners 'enthusiastic about Welsh lamb'
The Welsh MP hopes the UK can appeal to consumers in Gulf nations and persuade chefs to incorporate lamb into their cooking, such as the Omani national dish shuwa.
Mr Jones said particular emphasis should be placed on the uniqueness of British lamb products, how well regarded they are abroad and the high farming standards.
He said: “It’s a very, very high-quality product. I would hope that GCC cooks and chefs would see the potential of having such a premium product and would exploit it in their own dishes.”
Beef, chicken and other meats are typically less expensive than lamb in UK butcher’s shops and supermarkets. Farmers can see their profits suffer peaks and troughs due to the price of lamb fluctuating “alarmingly quickly”. The price of ewes in Britain shot up this year due to an increase in demand during Ramadan.
Mr Jones said an increase in demand from overseas would give the British farming industry a much-needed post-Brexit boost and go a long way towards providing stability in an industry increasing hit by uncertainty. It would also support jobs in the UK and lead to an increase in investment on both sides.
He said a free-trade deal with the GCC would be “extremely helpful” to his farming constituents, with prices soaring if overseas demand climbs.
“There is a market there already which has grown but I believe that it could grow significantly more quickly if the tariffs and non-tariff barriers were removed,” he said.
“When I’ve been to Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the past, for example, I like beef, and there’s always a premium placed on American-produced beef. Similarly, I would have thought a premium would be placed on British lamb products because they are so outstandingly good.”
Sealing a deal
The UK's International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan in June launched negotiations with the GCC in an effort to reach a free-trade deal and strengthen relations with the bloc.
Writing in The National, Ms Trevelyan said more than two years after leaving the EU, Britain was in a robust position to support Gulf nations as their economies undergo major transformations.
She said a deal “could throw open a door to the region’s vibrant economies for UK firms in sectors ranging from agribusiness to financial services”.