GIs allow Welsh farmers to sell their produce at a premium, but a no-deal Brexit and future trade deals both pose a threat to their continued existence, says Ceredigion MP Ben Lake, Plaid Cymru’s agriculture spokesman in Westminster.
Wales is known as a home for some of the world’s best food produce, whether it’s Welsh lamb, Carmarthenshire ham, Pembrokeshire potatoes, Halen Môn, or Denbighshire Plums, to name but a few.
The food and drink industry is a key pillar of the Welsh economy, worth £6.9 billion and employing over 240,000 people along the supply chain.
As has been well-rehearsed in recent months, of Wales’s food and drink exports, 90 per cent is destined for the European market, where the products listed above enjoy a premium thanks to their quality or unique origin.
The EU’s Geographical Indication (GI) scheme has been key to realising this premium, increasing the market value of any product it recognises as being of particular quality.
In fact, a European Commission study in 2012 calculated that GI products were sold on average for 1.6 times the price of similar products which did not have GI status.
Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC) has suggested 25 per cent of the growth in Welsh lamb exports between 2003 and 2012 was directly attributable to the GI status of Welsh lamb.
It should therefore come as no surprise that the producers of these products are anxious not to lose the status they have worked hard to achieve, and which has proven to be so valuable.
Evidence submitted to the Assembly’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee’s Rethinking Food Inquiry revealed the industry is concerned about the future status of existing GI products after Brexit.
This is despite UK Government plans to introduce a similar UK-only protection scheme, details of which are included as part of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Guidance was issued in February detailing what will happen to GIs if the UK leaves the EU without deal.
Under such circumstances, the UK will set up its own GI schemes which will aim to mirror their EU counterparts.
There is, however, a potential – and fatal – flaw in this approach, insofar as there is no guarantee the EU will continue to recognise UK GI products.
As was stressed in evidence given to the Brexit Select Committee, the arrangements would rely entirely on the goodwill of the EU 27, which might not be forthcoming if the UK exits without an agreement.
The Chair of the UK Protected Food Names Association, Matthew O’Callaghan, has gone so far as to say the UK Government is working under the ‘false hope’ that current UK GIs will continue to be protected by the EU’s GI schemes after Brexit.
Furthermore, as attentions begin to turn to possible trade agreements with other countries, these protections will come under increased pressure as trade-offs will be sought.
Recognition of Welsh products, and protection of GI in trade negotiations, will be much more difficult when the UK is acting alone.
It has long been established that customers overseas value the Welsh brand, and recent evidence has suggested a UK logo would not have the same appeal as the Welsh Dragon for consumers in some of our closest trading partners, like France, Germany and Italy.
As such, the UK Government should consider maintaining branding which works, and not try to fix something that is not broken.
It is often the case that tariff rates and non-tariff barriers dominate the debate on trade, and especially so with regard to food and drink exports.
The importance of Geographical Indicators, and the value an internationally respected GI scheme adds to Welsh products should not be overlooked, nor should it be cast aside in the pursuit of quick trade agreements.
Ben can be found tweeting at @BenMLake