Food and farming are worth some £6.1bn to the Welsh economy annually, supporting a combined workforce of around 53,500. There is little doubt as to the enormous scale of what’s at stake for Wales’ rural communities in our negotiations to withdraw from the European Union.
This week, the Royal Welsh Show in Llanelwedd will, as it has done every year since 1904, celebrate Welsh farming’s best offerings – from hulking Welsh Black cattle to lightning-quick sheep shearers. Not only is it the pinnacle event of the British agricultural calendar, but it is one of the biggest agricultural shows in Europe.
It is here in this wonderfully apt setting that on Monday I will be meeting with my colleague Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to impress on him the importance of keeping the Welsh agricultural sector at the forefront of EU trade negotiations – and indeed in all international trade negotiations. Doing so will put Wales on the strongest possible footing to take advantage of Brexit and its manifold opportunities.
Mr Gove will undoubtedly be aware that in Wales, 90% of agricultural exports go to the EU, and that 80% of farmers’ income is derived from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). What he may be less cognisant of is how reliant Wales’ cultural identity is on the health of our farming industry.
Our rural communities, our agriculture, our language exist in a delicate state of equilibrium that makes up Welsh life. So it’s important that the UK Government recognises not only the economic value of Wales’ agricultural industry, but its cultural value too. Allowing this equilibrium to endure, and prosper, means maintaining seamless access to the single market, and creating a package of support that is fit for the 21st century.
I have no doubt that the UK Conservative Government will deliver the best possible outcome for Wales and Britain throughout the negotiating process. I have every confidence that my colleague, Mr Gove, will be every bit as responsive and accommodating in our discussions.
In the shadow of the Black Mountains, there are few who can resist the charm of Welsh rural life, or remain blinkered to the challenges of its future. The weight of Welsh history rests on the broad shoulders of our negotiating team in Brussels.
Paul Davies AM
Welsh Conservative Shadow Secretary for Rural Affairs