Additional reporting by Charles O’Donnell

For the first time, export levels to continental Europe exceeded exports to the UK in 2019, according to Bord Bia CEO Tara McCarthy.

McCarthy was speaking at the publication of the Bord Bia Export Performance and Prospects report 2019/2020, which was launched by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed.

At the report launch, the CEO noted: “2019 was a watershed year for Ireland’s food and drink industry – not only in the total value of exports achieved but also in the make-up of their destination.

For the first time export levels to continental Europe exceeded exports to the UK. Exports to markets outside of the EU have also exceeded more than 30% of total exports for the first time.

In a breakdown of Irish food and drink export destinations it was noted that, in 2019, EU markets accounted for 35% of exports (up 1%), the UK accounted for 34% (down 3%) while the rest of the world accounted for 31% (up 2%).

“This result gives further impetus to the market prioritisation work undertaken by industry, the Department of Agriculture and Bord Bia over recent years,” McCarthy said.

Also speaking at the launch of the report, the Minister Creed said:

“Total Irish agri-food exports are estimated at a record €14.5 billion in 2019. This figure includes €1.5 billion in non-edible agri-food sector goods, including forestry and animal feedstuffs, which are not included in the Bord Bia figures.”

It is important to acknowledge too the contribution that Ireland’s farm families have made to this export performance, and to recognise the need for the supply chain to deliver a reasonable commercial return for those upon whom the production of high quality consumer products and raw materials depends.

Looking ahead for 2020, he added:”We face into a global trading environment in 2020 which continues to be marked by volatility and political uncertainty.”

‘New horizons’

Commenting on the geographic spread of the exports for last year, Bord Bia’s McCarthy noted that some 48%, or €2.7 billion of the overall export growth of €5.6 billion recorded over the past 10 years came from exports to places outside of the EU.

This, she said, “demonstrates the importance of continually looking to new horizons in Ireland’s market diversification strategy for our world class food and drink produce”.

This decade has seen over €2 billion more worth of dairy leaving Ireland’s shores while Irish whiskey also saw a significant 370% increase in its global export footprint to be worth €727 million in 2019.

The CEO pointed out that China including Hong Kong is now the largest market outside of those in the EU for Irish beef “with future growth anticipated in the coming years as a result of rising consumption and increasing consumer preference for high quality beef”.

Outlook for 2020

Commenting on the prospects for Irish food and drink exports in 2020, McCarthy said:

“Under the strategic guidance of the FoodWise 2025 plan, the target for food and drink exports in 2025 is a value of €19 billion.

“To achieve this, we need to remain sharp in our focus, agile in the face of continued uncertainty and we must double down on reinforcing our purpose for premium,” the CEO concluded.