It is very nearly Christmas, the time of year when we think about food more than ever! I hope everyone will try to shop local and support our fantastic food producers in Wales.
Welsh produce has become more well-known and supported than ever before, with demand for quality local produce rising. Iím sure that many of us will be eating Welsh lamb or beef over the holidays, sprinkled with Halen Mon salt. In Brussels a couple of weeks ago, I was at a well-attended event to showcase Welsh beers, with over 40 from breweries across the country on display. It was a great success and promoted Wales.
We have such fantastic produce, we have to be determined to protect and encourage it. That is why it is vital that we do everything we can to ensure that whatever the future holds, we must ensure that Welsh produce has a global market. Having access to the European Single Market is vital for our food industry and for consumers.
In the new year I will publish a report on the impact of leaving the European Union on the food industry in Wales. It will look at a number of issues, including food quality, prices, standards and food security.
Most of the laws that make sure that our food is safe and ensuring that we can promote our high quality produce is done on an EU level. We have to prepare for leaving the EU on our competitiveness on an international level.
The Welsh food export sector is very heavily dependent on the European Union, with 59.8% of total exports going to the rest of the European Union, compared with the 49.3% UK average. Exports have been increasing in recent years, with a 16.4% increase in the last year - some £1.4 billion.
So over the Christmas period, I encourage you all to buy local, quality Welsh produce. Not only because it is excellent, but to send the message that we care, and wonít accept anything less than full support, protection, and encouragement for our food industry.
Promoting Wales is my job and I will be doing all in my power in the coming year to ensure the best possible agreement for Wales's future. It will be a huge challenge, but no-one else will do it for us. It is up to us.
So eat well and enjoy your Christmas dinners. I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2018.