The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney TD, kicked off the first leg of his trade mission to the Gulf States today, Sunday, in Qatar.

Beginning the day with a 7.30am meeting with Irish business operators in the Emirate, the minister went on to meet with the influential Qatari Minister for the Environment, His Excellency Ahamad Bin Amer  Bin Mohammed Al Hemaidi, who has a key role in the area of market access for beef and sheepmeat.

The two ministers had a wide ranging discussion on the question of food security and the potential of Ireland as a supplier of high-quality food products, and addressed a number of specific health certification issues which will help to smooth the way for Irish beef and sheepmeat exports to the region.

The minister also met with Hassad Food Company, an operating arm of the Qatari Investment Authority with a focus on sustainable sourcing of food and in investment in food companies.

Inevitably the day had a strong focus on the thoroughbred horse industry. Ireland is the biggest supplier of thoroughbred foals in Europe, producing 40 per cent of EU output and the horse racing industry industry provides almost 17,000 jobs and contributes more than €1bn to Ireland’s rural economy.

There is a growing interest in Irish bloodstock in Qatar, and in recent times Sheikh Fahad Al Thani of the Qatari Royal House and Mr Mubarak Al Naemi, a leading business figure in the Middle East and Chairman of the Qatar Owners and Breeders association, have both invested in stud farms in Ireland. In addition, Qatar Racing, which has become a significant investor in racing in Ireland in recent years, has horses in training with well known Irish trainers Ger Lyons and Eddie Lynam.

Commenting after the meeting, in a statementMinister Coveney said:“The Irish horse sector is a key contributor to Ireland’s rural economy and to employment. It has a world class reputation and is recognised globally, but nowhere more than here in the Gulf, as a centre of excellence for breeding, training and all things equine. There are already strong links between Ireland and Qatar in the horse sector, and it is important to acknowledge the tremendous contribution made to the sector in Ireland by the Al Thani family and others, but equally to recognise the potential for further development of this already fruitful relationship.”

Accompanied by executives from Horse Racing Ireland and Irish Thoroughbred Marketing, Minister Coveney met with Mr Al Naemi, and representatives of the Qatar Investment and Project Holdings Company (Qipco), which has strong links to the Al Thani family, to acknowledge their contribution to the Irish horse industry and discuss the potential to enhance the already strong linkages between Ireland and Qatar in this area. Qipco is also a key player in construction, energy and financial service sectors across the Middle East.

Minister Coveney moves on to Abu Dhabi in the next leg of his week long mission to the Gulf States this evening.

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