Irish beef opportunities in Southeast Asia are on the rise. Below is a look at which countries are favouring our meat, and why.

The Philippines

The Philippines is a developing country in Southeast Asia with a per-capita GDP of €2,960 (Ireland: €66,900). The country is the largest importer of Irish beef and offal outside of Europe, purchasing 22,790t in 2020.

Ireland is the Philippines’ third-largest beef supplier with a market share of 14%, behind only Australia (44%) and Brazil (23%). In 2020, the Philippines imported a total of 161,853t of beef, worth 24.9 billion PHP (Philippine peso) or €440 million.

With a population of 107 million spread across 7,640 islands in the Pacific Ocean, cold-chain infrastructure in the Philippines is still developing, and Filipinos tend to consume meat either ‘hot’ (freshly slaughtered) or canned.

The meat processing industry is large and highly influential; the 83 largest companies comprising the Philippine Association of Meat Processors collectively account for 480,000t or 60% of meat imports and produce 900,000t of product annually.

Canned meats are shelf-stable, easily distributed and affordable to the average consumer, but are heavily reliant on imported manufacturing-grade meat, including Irish beef offal and fat.

Manila, Capital of the Philippines

However, African Swine Fever (ASF) and Covid-19 have disrupted the market of late. ASF has affected both local and imported pigmeat supplies – the domestic hog herd has shrunk 45% since July 2019 and major trading partners struck by ASF, such as Germany, have been banned from the country.

More recently, Covid-19 has upended international logistics and dramatically increased local demand for cheaper processed meats as the world’s longest Covid-19 lockdown eroded consumer purchasing power.

The cumulative impact of these trends has been ever-higher food prices, pushing national inflation to 4.2% in January 2021 and forcing the government to implement price controls.

Pigmeat is now nearly as expensive as beef in local markets, prompting end-consumers to switch between the proteins.

These near-term disruptions will provide substantial tailwinds for Irish beef due to increased demand for manufacturing cuts. In the long-term, positive macroeconomic factors such as a young, rapidly urbanising population, a rising middle class and an insatiable demand for protein, will continue to drive opportunities for a wider range of cuts, especially imported beef.


Japan imported a total of 600,000t of beef in 2020, continuing to be the world’s third biggest importer of beef. Irish exports of beef to Japan have grown considerably over the past 18 months.

In 2019, total exports of Irish beef, including offal, was 2,477t, worth €9.5 million. In 2020 this grew to 4,800 – an increase of 95%, and valued at €15.7 million, making Ireland the seventh largest beef exporter to Japan.

There are several key factors driving this growth. After initial success with offal, and in particular tongue, in recent years Japan has become a destination for primal cuts.

cut of irish hereford beef in Japanese labelling - irish beef opportunities in southeast asia
Irish Hereford Prime is available on Rakuten, the Amazon of Japan

The import duty on beef from Europe is gradually decreasing due to the Japan EU Economic Partnership Agreement. From 38.5% in 2018, the duty is now 25%, levelling the playing field between Ireland and key competitors; Australia with a 44% market share and the USA with 42% of the market.

Supply from Australia has decreased dramatically over the past 12-18 months, and this has encouraged Japanese importers to diversify their supply. With a risk-averse business culture, this diversification is likely to stick.

Awareness of Ireland as a stable source of quality beef is increasing.

This is down to the sustained efforts of the industry to break into the Japan market. A strong piece of evidence was the increased traffic to Bord Bia’s stand at last month’s Foodex trade fair, Japan’s largest food and drink trade show which took place in a regular, live format from March 9-12.

Increased Market Access in Japan

Market access for Irish beef to Japan was realised in 2015 and further expanded in 2019 with the removal of the 30-month age restriction.

In March this year, following extensive negotiations between the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) and its counterparts in Japan, access for Irish beef export was expanded to include minced meat and burger patties.

This advance will further enhance Irish beef’s reputation in the market.

South Korea

Opening up market access for Irish beef to South Korea remains a priority for Ireland. At present, the Irish application for beef access is waiting to be submitted to the Republic of Korea’s National Assembly for consideration.

While the Department of Agriculture has made significant progress to date, including audit visits by the South Korean Competent Authorities to Ireland and ongoing contacts at official level, there are still a number of steps to be concluded.

Korean bbq food on restaurant table - beef opportunities in southeast asia
Korean BBQ

Once access is granted we are in a position to hit the ground running and maximise the opportunity on offer. Under the EU-South Korea free trade agreement, Irish beef will enjoy a preferential tariff rate of 15% on frozen boneless beef, a 50% discount compared to the most favoured nation tariff rate.

The US, which is the largest beef exporter to South Korea, enjoys a preferential tariff rate of 13.3%, while the second largest exporter, Australia, has an 18.6% tariff rate.

Under existing bilateral trade agreements, South Korea’s import duties on US beef will be eliminated by 2026, by 2027 for Irish/EU beef and by 2028 for Australian beef.

Growing Popularity of Imported Meat

In 2020, South Korea imported over 481,777t of beef, of which 92% came from the US and Australia.

Frozen boneless beef is the most commonly imported beef product, accounting for over 41% of total beef imports, followed by frozen bone-in with 30%, while chilled beef accounts for just 20% (Source: IHS Markit 2021).

Brazil, traditionally a major player in Asian markets, does not have access to the Korean market. Holland and Denmark were the first EU member states to be granted beef access into Korea in 2019 – however both are yet to make any significant shipments into the market.

Given the strength of US beef in the market, awareness of grain-fed is high amongst Korean consumers, however there is a trend towards more natural and healthy products which grass-fed beef is in a position to satisfy.

Raising Awareness of Ireland in International Markets

In 2019, Bord Bia commenced a €3.8million campaign promoting European pork and beef in the South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam. Under the heading EU Pork & Beef: Love the Taste, Trust the Quality, the campaign is actively positioning Ireland as a key source of sustainable, high-quality meat in the southeast Asian region.

Building Ireland’s identity as a food producer can be challenging outside of the EU. Many international buyers would have difficulty finding Ireland on the map, let alone understanding our sustainable food production systems.

One avenue to assist in putting Ireland on the global map as a food producer is through EU co-funded campaigns. These are campaigns for which the EU provides approximately 80% of funding and which allow member states to promote EU produce to food buyers and consumers inside and outside the EU. 

Operating under an EU umbrella allows Ireland to leverage the reputation of the EU while simultaneously building the identity of Irish food production.

Bord Bia will submit a total of five EU applications this year. These include a dairy ingredients campaign targeting Southeast Asia, a fruit and vegetable campaign in partnership with Belgium and France, and a mushroom campaign to run in the UK.

Two beef and lamb applications will be submitted – a €3.7m campaign targeting China, Japan and South Korea and a €4.1m promotion in China, Japan, South Korea and the USA. 

The European Commission will notify applicants of their successful applications in October 2021.

To read more in-depth market insights surrounding the Irish food industry, visit the Bord Bia website here.