The recent export figures published by Bord Bia showed a small increase in exports of Irish beef to markets outside the EU. Overall this remains a tiny market at 3% of all exports but with the uncertainty of Brexit and the stagnation of Europe, third-country markets (as they are described) are the ones with real growth potential.
Ireland has two main export destinations for beef in the 25,000t of beef that is sold outside the EU. The Philippines had taken just over 10,500t in the ten months to October 2016, while Hong Kong took just under 12,500t of beef during the same period. The big prize that the industry craves in international markets is China, which it is thought would quickly take 50,000t of Irish beef annually, making it a market on par with France or The Netherlands in importance.
However, we are not alone in chasing these markets. Asia is effectively home turf for Australia and New Zealand beef sales. The biggest buyers in Asia are Japan and South Korea, who took 264,000t and 180,000t respectively in 2016 of Australian beef and they exported 94,000t to China in which is down 37% on the previous year because of reduced cattle numbers in Australia.
Aside from Australia and a lesser extent New Zealand, the biggest player Ireland faces in target international markets is Brazil. In Ireland’s best two markets outside the EU, Brazil sent 180,000t of beef to Hong Kong last year and 20,000t to the Philippines. Egypt is another major volume customer for the Brazilian meat industry, taking 176,500t last year. This is a target market for Ireland in 2017 having reopened in recent weeks and historically a major buyer of Irish beef, taking 100,000t when BSE forced us out of that market.
The prospect of a free-trade deal with Japan will create some potential for Irish beef to establish a better market presence as our pig meat and dairy already have. South Korea and Indonesia have huge potential once we are approved to supply them, but here our main competition for hindquarter meat will come from the US.