The US is to lift its decades-old ban on imports of British lamb, in a move that has delighted sheep farmers in the UK.
Speaking to reporters in Washington DC, Boris Johnson highlighted the move to lift the ban, as he admitted he is looking to take “incremental steps” on trade in the absence of a free trade pact with the US.
The Prime Minister said: “I can tell you today that what we’re going to get from the United States now is a lifting of the decades-old ban, totally unjustified, discriminating on British farmers and British lamb.
“We are going to be able to export British lamb to the US for the first time in decades.
“It will allow kebabs, the kofta, the lamb burgers of the people of the US (to) be supplied at last by Britain, and fantastic juicy cuts of welsh lamb and everything else.”
Despite Mr Johnson’s claims the US would be lifting the ban, Downing Street later said “good progress” had been made by the Prime Minister and president but there were details that now needed to be worked through.
The US has banned the import of British beef and lamb since 1989, as a result of BSE or “mad cow disease”, although the ban on beef has already been lifted.
Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, and a sheep farmer with a smallholding in south Gloucestershire, said farmers were delighted by the announcement.
“It’s good news, it’s something we’ve been waiting for a long time,” he said.
He said it would allow British imports of genetic material from sheep to the US industry and “get some high-quality lamb products in there and help them rebuild that interest in lamb and mutton and sheep meat as a food in the US”.
“They’ve seen a huge decline in the last three or four decades in lamb consumption and the quality of British lamb could build that up and help lift and rebuild the US industry,” he suggested.
And he said: “I think the key to getting the US consumer market going will be to get a really good eating experience, and to know and understand the credentials of British lamb.”
These include the sustainability of grass-fed livestock and carbon storage in pasture, and high welfare standards, he said.
Mr Stocker said it would stimulate demand and keep prices high, and would go some way to compensating for the challenges that British sheep farmers were facing, including difficulties with exports to Europe and the reduction in subsidy payments that are being phased out post-Brexit.
Mr Stocker said the announcement helped support a strong market, adding: “This creates another opportunity for our industry to maximise trade opportunities and we have always seen the US as being a potentially important market.
“After the domestic market, which takes 60–65% of UK production, the EU is still our largest export market and is on our doorstep. However, access is more difficult than it was when we were part of the EU.
“It’s essential to maintain EU access but is also important to work on any market that gives us future potential.”
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) pointed to Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board estimates last year that securing access to the US market for UK sheep meat was worth at least £37 million over the first five years, and said that since then the price of lamb has further increased to record highs across the US .
An NFU spokesperson said: “It’s excellent to hear that the Prime Minister and his government are working with the United States to lift this ban. British lamb is a fantastic, sustainable product that is recognised around the world for its quality and we know there is demand for it in the US.
“This is exactly the sort of export opportunity in a new market that the government should be pursuing and is something we strongly support.”
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