A bid to put Welsh Lamb on the menu in China could take a step closer following a function organised by the Farmers' Union of Wales at the House of Lords tomorrow (Wednesday, 20 January).
A top-table guest at the union's annual lunch to celebrate the Home Grown Cereals Authority's Farmhouse Breakfast Week will be Zhou Xiaoming, Minister Counsellor of Economic and Commercial Office of the UK's Chinese Embassy, who is in charge of all trade and investment issues between China and the UK including agriculture.
The function is being hosted by Lord Livsey of Talgarth, the former Liberal Democrat MP for Brecon and Radnor whose successor to represent the constituency Roger Williams, currently Lib Dem Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, led a delegation to the Chinese Embassy in London two years ago to promote Welsh Lamb.
Although Mr Williams doesn't run his Breconshire farm himself anymore, he is still responsible for a flock of 600 ewes and 60 beef suckler cows. He will also be on the top table at the lunch - one of three FUW functions to herald Farmhouse Breakfast Week (24-30 January).
The other two are traditional Welsh breakfasts at the National Assembly's Senedd building in Cardiff Bay today (Tuesday, 19 January), where rural affairs minister Elin Jones is the main speaker, and at the European Union headquarters in Brussels next week (Wednesday, 27 January) when an FUW delegation will meet Welsh MEPs.
Mr Williams' began his bid to boost exports to China when he helped arrange for farmers from his constituency provide 40kg of Welsh Lamb for a Chinese New Year reception at the Chinese Embassy in January 2008.
The idea was first discussed when Mr Williams' neighbour Glyn Jones, a farmer and director of Farmers Fresh which manages an abattoir and is directly involved in the export market, came up with the idea to promote Welsh Lamb.
Mr Williams said: "Welsh Lamb is the best lamb in the world and the Chinese market presents a massive opportunity for the Welsh agricultural sector. In the past decade alone, meat consumption in China has been rising at an average of 2kg per capita per year.
"Over the past few decades, consumption of meat in developing countries has grown at a rate of five to six per cent a year and is growing 10 times faster in newly industrialised countries. This is a trend that will continue as China's economy carries on growing and one that should create a nation that has more disposable income.
"If Chinese consumers choose to spend this money on Welsh Lamb then, apart from the high quality product they will receive, domestic meat producers will benefit."
Average meat consumption in China is now 54kg/person, compared to 70-130kg/person in Western countries. Forty years ago, it was just 4kg/person in China.
Another top-table guest at the Lords function, Hybu Cig Cymru-Meat Promotion Wales chairman Rees Roberts, said: "Welsh Lamb is big business overseas, with one in three lambs destined for export.
"Europe has traditionally been our largest overseas market, and continues to be so, but Welsh Lamb has an enviable reputation as a quality brand, leading to new markets opening up across the world.
"One of those markets is China. There is already demand for Welsh Lamb in the restaurants of Hong Kong and HCC is working on ways to make our produce available in mainland China. Meanwhile, we are continuing our marketing efforts in other parts of the Far and Middle East, including Singapore and Dubai."
Another speaker at the Lords lunch will be Andrew Denham, chairman of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.
FUW president Gareth Vaughan said: "In 2008 RABI gave out some £318,000 to beneficiaries, both working and retired in Wales. As well as regular quarterly grants it helped with specialist items such as mobility scooters, riser recliners and stair lifts.
"For working farming families, help has been given for domestic bills, where there has been illness within the family or TB in the herd, and help towards farm worker costs where the farmer has been incapacitated due to injury or illness. Income for 2008 from Wales, where RABI has 223 of its total of 1,434 retired long-term beneficiaries, was some £92,000."
FUW's Caernarfonshire office has organised the following farmhouse breakfasts at members' farms and Bryncir Market in support of the Home Grown Cereals Authority's Farmhouse Breakfast Week (24-30 January) - Ty'n Hendre, Talybont, Bangor (on Monday, 25 January); Bodnitho Farm, Botwnnog (Wednesday, 27 January); Fferm Llwyndyrys, Llwyndyrys (Thursday, 28 January); Dylasau Uchaf, Padog, Betws-y-Coed; Gwern, Saron, Llanwnda; and Bryncir Market (all on Friday, 29 January).
Everyone is welcome and to book your place at the table contact FUW county executive officer Gwynedd Watkin or Gwenda Williams on 01286 672 541. The cost is £10 per person and all proceeds will be shared between the FUW president's charity, Wales Air Ambulance, and the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.