AGRICULTURE is vital for the Welsh economy.

So says a key figure with Hybu Cig Cymru - Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).

In giving evidence on the post-Brexit future of Welsh agriculture to the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee of MPs, HCC chief executive Gwyn Howells has emphasised that while farming may appear a relatively small part of the UK economy as a whole, it is of vital importance to Wales.

Last week, the Welsh Affairs Committee held its latest evidence-gathering session for its inquiry on Brexit, agriculture, trade and the repatriation of powers, with Mr Howells appearing as an expert witness on the red meat sector, which earns Wales more than £120 million in annual exports.

With a third of the nation’s lamb production being exported to the EU each year and the Welsh lamb and Welsh beef brands currently being protected by European PGI status, Mr Howells reiterated that fair and unfettered trade after March 2019 was vital.

He also emphasised the importance of clarity on future agricultural payments, and the availability of qualified vets and labour for the processing industry.

“There is clear potential for red meat to lead the growth of the Welsh food and drink sector which is our country’s biggest manufacturing industry,” said Mr Howells.

“PGI Welsh Lamb and PGI Welsh Beef are the nation’s most recognisable brands, in our vital markets in England and overseas; flagship products which are symbols of Welsh quality and provenance.”

He added: “We saw encouraging increases in beef and lamb exports during 2017 to key countries such as Germany and emerging markets like Canada.

"HCC is partnering with Welsh Government and processors to do even more to boost overseas trade, and secure good returns for farmers for the premium meat that we produce.”

Mr Howells emphasised: “Fair trade is all we ask.

“Continued unfettered access to Europe after Brexit would enable us to build on that record of success, and we’ll be looking for further progress in opening up markets which are currently closed such as the USA and Saudi Arabia.”

In his testimony to the select committee, the HCC chief executive also outlined the steps that were being taken to ensure the continued protected status of Wales’ lamb and beef brands, as well as over a dozen other Welsh food products.

“PGI status is recognised throughout the world food industry as a mark of quality, and has undoubtedly led to increased business for Welsh beef and Welsh lamb, both at home and abroad," he added.

"It’s been a cornerstone of our marketing for over a decade.

"A seamless transition of Geographical Indication protection under the provisions of the EU Withdrawal Bill would be extremely beneficial.”