Speedier progress needed on securing red meat export markets

Wednesday, 12 November, 2014

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has met with DARD officials this week to discuss ways to speed up gaining access to new export markets for Northern Ireland’s red meat industry. The meeting follows on from a UFU meeting last month with LMC and NIMEA which focused on similar issues.

UFU Deputy President Ivor Ferguson said: “While the UK is currently our strongest market and where the vast majority of our red meat is marketed, we cannot rely on it solely to deliver the export goals set out in the Agri-Food Strategy Board’s ‘Going for Growth’ report.  Northern Europe continues to be an important market as well, however, economic factors such as the Sterling/Euro exchange rate and a slump in the EU economy have made competing in this market more challenging than it was in the past. With this in mind, it is all the more important that we are looking for other export markets and that we move quickly to ensure our red meat industry does not miss out on vital opportunities.

“In more recent times we have seen growth in our sales to South East Asia and West Africa, however we must be ambitious and seek out further opportunities in the worlds largest and fastest growing economies.  China, with a population of 1.4 billion people and a rapidly expanding middle class is obviously being eyed up by many of the world’s food export nations as are other markets in the USA, Philippines and Japan. Already, our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland are making significant inroads into these markets and could have Irish red meat on Chinese and US shelves in 2015, however, here at home we are not moving nearly fast enough and are at serious risk of being left behind.

Ivor Ferguson continued, “While negotiations continue to progress with a number of potential key markets, there is still very much an onus on both Government and Industry to identify other markets as early as possible so that the red meat industry is in a prime position to take advantage of these situations.  Ensuring sufficient resources are made available to assist with this process is crucial and we expect that Government will fully support any initiative which can help bolster our economy.  Ultimately however, Government can only do so much to open up doors for our red meat industry and this is where we need to see further collaborative action from the processors to ensure that the potential of these markets is being truly realised.

“Farmers in Northern Ireland are producing a unique brand of grass fed beef and lamb to a very high standard, which is very much in demand in these global markets as demonstrated by the quick progress of our Southern neighbours.  There is no denying that there are major opportunities that exist across the world for these Farm Quality Assured products and these will be crucial if we are to improve returns for livestock producers. Expectations are high and we have urged DARD to do everything in its power to get access to these markets as soon as possible.”