The UK wants Welsh protected food names to be labelled with a Union Jack, but dragon branding has greater appeal for our trading partners, says Llyr Gruffydd, North Wales AM and Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs.
The Grand Slam rugby champions, a football team studded with global stars and a national flag recently rated the ‘coolest’ in the world.
Add in the renowned quality of our food and drink products and it is not a bad base for Wales to start marketing itself on the world stage.
But one of the more unwelcome consequences of Brexit will be the undermining of distinctive Welsh food and drink branding.
Unfortunately this is being done with the active participation of the UK Government.
Brexit, if it goes ahead, will affect the agricultural industry in many ways, and I am particularly concerned that the replacement of the Welsh dragon with the Union Jack on our products, along with the ending of the EU-protected food names scheme for Welsh beef and lamb, will further harm the industry – and unnecessarily so.
The protected food names scheme, also known as Geographical Indicators (GI), is there to legally protect Welsh lamb, beef and traditionally reared pedigree porks, among other products.
GIs also secure a fair return for producers for the quality of their products and help customers make informed choices.
There is a wealth of evidence to suggest not only do GIs uphold high standards, but they also play a key part in the economic success of the Welsh food and drink sector.
In a 2015 study, Meat Promotion Wales estimated that the 25 per cent growth in lamb exports which occurred between 2003 and 2013 was directly attributable to the protected status of Welsh lamb.
A 2012 European Commission study calculated that GI products were sold in the EU at a price 2.23 times higher than non-GI products.
It is therefore clear that the protected food names scheme is vital to the Welsh food and drink sector, both at home and abroad.
However, Brexit threatens all this.
The UK Government does not currently have a plan to introduce a similar scheme to protect Welsh products.
It does, however, plan on introducing a UK GI scheme in the hope they will be recognised by the EU.*
This, like all its much-vaunted plans, will be subject to negotiation. And one of the lessons we’ve learned from Brexit is this UK Government is a poor negotiator.
I certainly don’t trust the UK Government to negotiate in Wales’ best interests with countries like the US, who have made it clear they would oppose the existence of GIs in any trade deals.
The UK Government has said it would want the UK logo to be placed on these products.
But this would be completely nonsensical – customers trust the Welsh brand and the evidence proves this.
The Welsh Assembly recently heard evidence from Puffin Produce, a potato company based in Pembrokeshire, who said their sales increased by up to 33 per cent when they replaced the Union Jack for a Welsh dragon on their products sold at Aldi.
Not only this, but research suggests that 85 per cent of people in Wales believe Welsh food and drink to be of excellent quality; three quarters of people say they would always buy Welsh products if the price is not too high; and nearly half would be ready to pay more for Welsh products.
And recent evidence also indicates a UK logo would not have the same appeal as the Welsh dragon for customers in some of our closest trading partners, like France, Germany and Italy.
So be sceptical of people like the Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns, who say the Welsh brand doesn’t have international appeal.
When it comes to those countries we trade with the most, the Welsh brand actually has more appeal than the Union Jack.
With the increasingly fractious nature of international relations, that may be the case for many years to come.
We must ensure Welsh products continue to enjoy proper GI protection. It would be easy to dismiss this as an irrelevant issue.
But the reality is it is about much more than flags: it’s about consumer trust, maintaining current high standards and securing fair returns for our farmers.
The Welsh brand is vital to our food and drink sector and must be protected.
That’s why I’ll continue to work with farmers and food producers in Wales to keep the dragon flying high.
Llyr can be found tweeting at @LlyrGruffydd
* The terms of the Withdrawal Agreement make it clear GIs would be legally protected but, at the time of writing, there is no guarantee that there will be a Withdrawal Agreement.