A SHEEP farming group has welcomed the news that trade discussions with the US are due to start following disruptions caused by Covid-19.

Phil Stocker, chief executive of The National Sheep Association (NSA), has said they are pleased to hear these negotiations are now beginning after the delays caused by the pandemic.

He said: "We believe there are valuable opportunities for both our industry and the US sheep industry, in Britain, getting access for lamb and mutton into the US.

"The US sheep meat market is highly underdeveloped with very low lamb consumption across the country, and I am convinced that our genetics and British lamb and mutton, very different products to those produced by most US sheep farmers, could help stimulate real interest among American consumers and in turn help US sheep farmers see some growth.

“For us, access into the US could create demand for those high-value cuts, particularly sheep meat with provenance and a story simply because of the close connections between our countries and the huge interest in our culture and heritage – an aspect which sheep farming is steeped in.”

He said the NSA is clear that market access to the EU is a priority but is enthusiastic to expand and build stronger connections further afield.

“We don’t see this as an alternative to the EU market," said Mr Stocker. "But it would be a positive trade that would complement both our exports and our domestic market. This is particularly prudent at current as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has shown how reliant our industry is on the catering and hospitality market and I could see future US demand for British lamb and mutton coming in alongside our own catering markets, all of which help to balance carcase demand and optimise value across the entire sheepmeat product range.”

The NSA has previously expressed concerns about the quality of standards UK producers expect importers to meet.

Mr Stocker said: “We welcome statements from Ministers and Government officials that in terms of reciprocal trade our standards will be protected and, while as a general statement, the Government is enthusiastic about free and open trade it does recognise that agriculture and food, like the NHS, is an industry that requires a level of protection and I do expect the commitments not to undermine our unique approach to farming, food, and the environment to be upheld.”