A major importer of Welsh lamb into France has warned industry leaders that import tariffs on sheep meat products in the event of a no-deal Brexit would kill that trade.

Almost all Welsh meat exported from the UK goes to EU countries – domestic demand is for 16-21kg carcasses and a significant proportion of Welsh lamb carcasses are below this weight range.

Among the buyers of Welsh lamb is Rungis International Market, which imports 12,000 lamb carcasses a week.

But those carcasses would need to find another buyer if the UK leaves the EU without a trade deal on December 31, said NFU Cymru’s livestock board chairman Wyn Evans.

This message was made clear during recent talks with the company, he said.

The trade with Rungis is important for Welsh sheep farmers – of the 40 per cent of lamb exported from Wales, 90 per cent is sold to Europe.

“We were told by the operators of Rungis that there would still be demand for our lamb after Brexit but that they wouldn’t be in a position to buy it if they had to pay a 46 per cent import tariff,’’ said Mr Evans.

The company’s position reflects that of other European buyers, he added.

NFU Cymru has said that the sheep sector in particular would need some kind of Government support in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Meanwhile, the uncertainty over how the UK will leave the EU at the end of the year is impacting on the breeding and stock management decisions on Welsh livestock farms.

Mr Evans produces lamb from a flock of Tregaron Welsh ewes on the edge of the Cambrian Mountains.

If he knew he was expecting a no-deal Brexit he would tup fewer ewes this autumn; to compensate for the consequential loss of income he would fatten more cattle.

As the UK is a net importer of beef, Mr Evans predicts that the beef price may hold up.

But this would be the wrong decision for his business if a deal was reached, he said.

“It is a job to prepare because potentially we could have a deal and everything might be OK, farming decisions should never be taken on a hunch.’’

If he was a gambling man, Mr Evans would put his money on an 11th-hour deal.

“There is too much to lose to leave without a deal but if there is a deal it would be criminal to allow imports produced at inferior standards to those of the Welsh livestock industry, standards cost money.

“After the reform of the Corn Laws, agriculture went into an 80-year downturn driven by cheap imports to the extent that in 1939 two thirds of our food was imported, putting food security at a massive risk. There are big lessons we can learn from history on this particular issue.’’

There is work to be done to boost sales of lamb in Wales – only 5 per cent of lamb produced in Wales is consumed in that country.

Red meat levy bodies are being urged to pool resources to avert a price crash as bumper supplies of new season Welsh lamb hit the market.

Welsh sheep numbers are thought to be slightly down on last year but with a good lambing period and lambs finishing well there are more lambs on the ground.

Dafydd Jarrett, policy officer at NFU Cymru, warned that lamb producers potentially face a similar situation to the spring price crash experienced by beef farmers unless action is taken.

He wants the supply chain to take the same collaborative approach it adopted with the beef market, with strong promotional work from levy bodies and retailers to address carcass balance issues.

“Hopefully we can replicate the beef success story with lamb,’’ said Mr Jarrett.

Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales collaborated with other levy bodies to fund the #MakeItLamb campaign, which ran throughout July.