Egypt reopens to Irish live cattle exports, first shipment expected this year

The live cattle export market to Egypt has officially re-opened following the successful visit of two Egyptian veterinary staff to Ireland this week.

Bord Bia’s Joe Burke told Agriland that the two Egyptian veterinary officials agreed veterinary protocols, which clears the way for shipments of cattle to take place.

Burke said that the vets visited one beef and one dairy farm in Co. Wicklow along with a beef factory.

The Egyptian representatives also spent time with Department of Agriculture officials, where they saw Ireland’s identification and tractability standards first hand.

The Bord Bia beef specialist said that three Irish boats have already been approved to carry cattle to Egypt and the first shipment could leave by the end of 2016.

“There are inquiries coming in from potential customers already and we are optimistic, because it is a much more stable market than Libya,” he said.

The Egyptian market

Egypt, he said, is the perfect market for male dairy cattle, although it’s currently dominated by live cattle imports from South America.

Irish live cattle exports to Egypt ceased in January of 1997, but Burke said that the market has the capacity to import 150,000 cattle annually.

This makes it an attractive market for Irish live cattle exports, he said and it will help keep a floor under the domestic market price.

At peak export levels in 1994, Ireland exported over 253,000 cattle to Egypt, he said, with this market aided by CAP export refunds to non-EU countries.

However, Burke said that the market is not capable of taking similar levels of cattle but it remains an “attractive and viable” market for Irish live cattle exports.

He also said that the removal of export refunds has been counteracted by an increase in the Egyptian cattle price.

Spain and France are Ireland’s main European competitors in the Egyptian market, he said.

Spain and France, he said, can export to Egypt and the Middle East cheaper than Ireland, because of the shorter travel distance.

Ireland, in turn, he said has to have a higher standard of welfare for cattle on board, due to the longer distance involved, which adds to the cost.

But, with the cattle price narrowing between the countries, Irish live cattle exports to Egypt are becoming more economically viable, he said.

The opening of the Egyptian market will be welcomed by many within the industry, as Department of Agriculture figures show that live cattle exports were 25% lower in 2015 compared to 2014. 

In December 2015, the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney said the Egyptian market would reopen for exports of fattening and finished cattle.

Farming organisations such as IFA and ICSA have continually called for the opening of additional live export markets for Irish cattle, as they say these markets are important to maintain a good Irish beef price.

These live cattle exports may become increasingly important to the Irish beef industry, as Bord Bia predicts an 80,000 head increase in finished cattle coming on stream this year.

Figures from the ICBF show there has been an increase in calf births between 2013 and 2015.

According to ICBF data, there were 44,313 more calves born in 2014 compared to 2013, with most of these extra calves born to the dairy herd (+44,356 calves).

Calf registrations had also increased in 2015, with 6% more calves being registered than 2014, it says.

There was an 8% increase in dairy births (99,417) and a 2% increase in beef births (20,302).

Bank of Ireland’s Head of Agriculture, Sean Farrell also said that the additional dairy calves born in 2014 and 2015 are likely to cause an increase in beef supplies later in 2016.

“Beef supplies in the first half of 2016 are anticipated to remain tight with increased supplies coming onto the market in the second half of 2016,  as a result of dairy herd growth, which started last year,” he said.