US edges closer to lifting British lamb ban

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British lamb could deliver a £35m bounty for the nation’s economy as early as next year, according to Farming Minister George Eustice, who said the US government has decided to “press ahead” with plans to lift export restrictions.

The longstanding ban on exports of the British meat, which has existed since the BSE health scare of the 1990s, is a step closer to being scrapped, the Cornwall MP told members of the sheep industry.

Progress comes after a 1,000-page dossier detailing the safety and quality of British beef and lamb was submitted to the US Department of Agriculture earlier this year ahead of trade talks with US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in Washington in April.

The US proposals are still up for consultation but Mr Eustice, speaking at the National Sheep Association’s (NSA) Sheep Event in Malvern, Worcestershire, said: “The US decision to press ahead with proposals to lift export restrictions on British lamb is great news for our farmers, who are one step closer to gaining access to the lucrative American market, worth an estimated £35m a year.

“Our world-leading food and drink industry is a key part of our nation’s economic success and, in addition to forging good trade deals with our European neighbours, we want to secure more export opportunities in the States as well as with our close friends in the Commonwealth and other countries around the world.”

The British government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is now co-ordinating UK farming industry comment for the 60-day consultation and liaising with US trade associations to gain backing for proposals.

A spokeswoman for Mr Eustice said the step forward was unrelated to the Brexit vote and “coincidence that it’s happened now”.

Phil Stocker, chief executive of the NSA, said any breakthrough would be incredibly helpful to the sheep industry in Britain.

“Increasing the number of export destinations for British sheep meat is vital for our industry, ensuring there is demand for our quality product in as many markets as possible,” Mr Stocker said. “It is very encouraging that the USA is interested in opening its doors.

“Lamb sales in the USA have dropped over the years, as a result of a falling domestic production base, and NSA would like to see British lamb exported and promoted to boost consumption.”

Charles Sercombe, livestock board chairman at the National Farmers’ Union, said: “Reopening the US beef and lamb market to UK imports would be a positive move and an important confidence-building measure for the British livestock sector. The US is potentially a huge and affluent market that has strong links to the UK as we share history and language.”

Helen Davies, organiser of the NSA Sheep Event, also welcomed the opportunity.

“It will be a huge boost if we get the trade deal sorted,” she said.

“We are very proud of our product and we would be very happy to send it over the water.”

IMPORTANCE OF NEW MARKETS

Opening up new markets for British food - and reopening old ones - is seen as crucial by the British farming industry as the country weighs up its future for when it leaves the European Union.

At present 73 per cent of British agri-food exports go to the EU and 38 per cent of British lamb is sold to mainland Europe.

The lamb sector, which is particularly important to the Yorkshire economy due to the high number of sheep farmers in the region, has been stung since an import ban on red meats in the 1990s amid fears over BSE infecting the human food chain.

The campaign to allow Britain’s farmers to start exporting sheep meat again to the US started in earnest in around 2012.