By Neil Halligan
“Countries here need long-term supply security and that's a space we need to look at," says official
Ireland will look to double its exports to the GCC over the next five years, according the country’s agriculture minister.
Ireland currently exports $270 million (€250m) of food and drink products to the GCC each year, including three quarters of which is delivered to the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Exports to the region increased by 26 percent over the past five years, and the Department of Agriculture, along with the country’s food board (Bord Bia) plan to double that figure to $540 million by 2022.
Michael Creed, Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture, was in region recently on a trade mission to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
During the visit to the kingdom, the minister managed to enhanced access for Irish beef to Saudi Arabia, with processed, cooked, minced and bone-in beef now added to the list of products that can be exported to Saudi Arabia.
“We have a number of companies that would be specialists in that area that would have been interested in that opportunity,” Creed said.
Ireland also agreed on a process that will eventually allow Irish sheep meat to be export to the country.
“We engaged intensely with the Saudis on that [sheep meat] and we got a roadmap now to progress that. It was one of our priorities coming out. We need to do some technical work on that,” he said.
Ireland has been to the forefront in agricultural technology field as well, with exports currently at $30 million to Saudi Arabia. He said there are definite plans to increase that to close to $45 million in three years’ time.
Ireland’s commitment to sustainability under its Origin Green programme, has been particularly attractive to the GCC market, where consumers are acutely aware of where products are imported from.
“It starts with the farmers,” said Bord Bia CEO Tara McCarthy. “We've got 136,000 carbon assessments created over the last five years. Almost every dairy farmer in Ireland, 17,000 farmers, signed up to this project. 45,000 beef farmers signed up, and every single one of them measuring to improve.
“We have 236 of our processors signed up, which is about 90 percent of our exports, when you put those that flow together, which means you then have a nation's industry - the only one in the world - that is taking a countrywide approach to solving this issue.”
Food security was also discussed with officials in Saudi Arabia officials, with plan to develop that when the head of the Saudi Agriculture and Livestock Investment Company (SALIC) comes Dublin.
"We're going to explore that space, but it would be breaking new ground,” said Creed.
“Countries here need long-term supply security and that's a space we need to look at.
“We did explore long-term supply contracts with some of the agencies, but that would have to be at a premium price that would be encouraging enough to make the long-term commitment.”
He said with the UK decision to exit the EU, Ireland need to look to other countries to diversify and grow its exports.
“In the context of Brexit, the strategy has to be to have as many doors open as possible. Companies would be wise to take a three or five year horizon and say 'where to do I want be' in that space. Do I still want to be as exposed to the UK market as I currently am, or is it prudent in my particular business circumstances to look at the opportunities?”
The minister also met with Dubai Chamber during his visit to the UAE and it was agreed that Irish products imported to Jebel Ali would be re-exported across the GCC.
“We met the port authority. Met with director general in GCC. They are two critical contact points, because what we want is a seamless arrangement where product comes in here to Dubai but can be distributed out to the various GCC member states.”
Renowned Dubai chef Reif Othman, from Play Restaurant in the H Hotel, was inducted the as the first member of the UAE chapter of Bord Bia's Chefs' Irish Beef Club (CIBC), the first outside Europe.
“I have visited Ireland on a number of occasions and seen first- hand the care and attention that goes into producing beef. The quality of your beef is due to many factors, the environment, the attention to animal welfare and the lushness of the grass but above all the pride your people take in producing stress free beef,” Othman said.