Iran is open at present for Irish beef and sheep meat but the resumption of exports is a matter for the industry, according to Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed.

Iran – which is a market of 80 million people, and a gateway to a market of approximately 250 million people through neighbouring countries – was raised in the Dáil on Tuesday (March 26) by independent TD Mick Wallace.

The Wexford TD asked the minister if discussions have been had with Iranian officials regarding a resumption of beef and lamb exports to the country.

“There is more beef in cold storage plants currently than we would like and not selling it to the likes of the Iranians does not make a great deal of sense,” deputy Wallace said.

In response, Minister Creed confirmed that he “very anxious to have trade there”, adding that he had a meeting with the Iranian ambassador to Ireland in February who was also “anxious that we would have trade”.

The minister explained that the market is already open for mainly dairy, beef and sheepmeat exports; however, he said that there are “issues, rather than regulatory ones, which are a hindrance to trade”.

“Total Irish agrifood exports to Iran in 2017 were approximately €11.5 million, the majority of which, or €10.25 million, was accounted for by dairy exports.

“According to the CSO [Central Statistics Office], 26t of beef were exported to Iran in 2017, but there have been no exports of sheepmeat to date,” the minister said.

Limited or no exports to Iran can be explained by a combination of unfavourable trading conditions, cheaper supplies of beef from Brazil and of lamb from Australia to the Iranian market and financial barriers.

“Work is ongoing within the EU to devise measures to overcome financial barriers to trade between the EU and Iran.”

The minister added that the matter is a question of “what it delivers in terms of profitability relative to any other market”.

“If it is more profitable to be in another market, it is not in the interests of primary producers or the agriculture sector to send products there just for the sake of it,” he said.

“That market is being supplied with beef from South America and sheepmeat substantially from Australia and at a price, particularly in the case of South American beef, with which we cannot compete.

We are anxious to explore the possibility of supplying more to that market – but it must be on the basis that it is more rewarding than being in other markets. Ultimately, that is a call for businesses to make.

The minister concluded reiterating that there are “other factors that make it difficult to trade there which are not related to regulations imposed by the state”.