Efforts to diversify markets for Irish agri-food exports mean such goods now reach more than 180 countries around the world, according to Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Martin Heydon.

The minister of state was speaking in the Dáil earlier today (Wednesday, February 17) about the performance of Irish agri-food exports in 2020.

“Despite disruptions to supply and demand, agrifood exports in 2020 were €14.1 billion, compared with €14.5 billion the previous year, a 3% overall reduction,” he said.

This is an extraordinary achievement when considering the challenges that food and drink producers have faced since March 2020.

Quoting export figures for 2020 – released on Monday by the Central Statistics Office – Minister Heydon said: “Dairy and beef contribute €7.4 billion to our exports, which is over 52% of our total agrifood exports.

“Exports of dairy products exceeded €5 billion for the second year in a row, with exports to more than 130 countries around the globe. Despite the difficult year, dairy exports grew slightly, by about 1%, in 2020.

“Beef, our second largest export category, was worth more than €2.3 billion, down by 2% from 2019. This was a particularly good result, considering that the food service sector was closed in many of our export markets for most of 2020.

“Pigmeat, sheepmeat and poultry also contributed strongly to our exports, with €1.5 billion of these meats exported in 2020, similar to 2019.”

Impact of Covid-19

Commenting on the impact of Covid-19, Minister Heydon highlighted that exports declined by 10% or more to countries which suffered the most due to the pandemic, such as the US, France, Italy, Belgium and Spain.

“Exports to the UK accounted for 37% of total exports, down from 45% in 2010. While exports to countries outside the UK and EU accounted for 31%, up from 22% in 2010,” he said.

These figures underline the dividend of a decade-long diversification strategy that has seen Ireland achieve a broad global base for its food and drink exports, which now reach in excess of 180 countries.

“Exports to countries such as the US, China, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have doubled in value over the past decade, with significant increases in the value of exports to Africa and the Middle East in more recent years as new international markets come to the fore,” the minister of state concluded.