The Lebanese market is to fully re-open to Irish beef, sheepmeat and cooked meats. The Lebanese authorities banned the importation of live cattle and beef from Ireland following the BSE crisis nearly 14 years ago. Prior to that, exports of Irish beef to Lebanon were worth approximately €5m per annum.

The ban in respect of live cattle was lifted in May 2001, following high-level contacts between the Department and the Lebanese authorities, and a revised veterinary health certificate was negotiated in respect of live cattle.

The market is now to reopen, the Lebanese authorities announced this afternoon.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney welcomed the move and said the successful agreement followed sustained efforts over a number of years by his Department and the Embassy of Ireland in Cairo.

In a statement, he said: “This market will provide another valuable outlet for Irish product and will further enhance Ireland`s reputation as a source of high-quality sustainably produced food.  It follows the recent re-opening of other markets notably Japan during my recent visit with the Taoiseach there. These market openings are key to growing Irish exports as seen in last week’s Bord Bia figures for 2013 as well as helping achieve the targets set out in the Food Harvest 2020 Strategy.”

The minister added: “The Lebanese market is one of huge potential for Irish exporters as they currently import 60 per cent of beef into a domestic market worth €100m annually. I am confident that Irish exporters can regain their slice of that market and grow it further over time. Veterinary health certificates have been agreed between the Lebanese and Irish authorities, ensuring that trade can commence immediately.”

According to Bord Bia, Irish beef exports showed strong growth in 2013, with volumes increasing by four per cent and value increasing by 10 per cent to reach €2.1bn. It notes sheepmeat exports also grew in 2013, with volumes increasing by three per cent and value increasing by four per cent to reach €220m.

Speaking to AgriLand this afternoon, a spokesperson for Bord Bia said the opening of the Lebanese market to Irish beef, sheepmeat and cooked meats is an indication of the growing opportunities for Irish food and drink in international markets and the Middle East in particular.

To support the growth in these markets, Bord Bia has opened a new office in the region during a recent trade mission. “Lebanon’s economy is forecast to grow by 1.5 per cent in 2014 and with as much as 24 per cent of household spend in Lebanon being on food, Irish meat suppliers in particular are in a good position to avail of the access to new opportunities,” she added. 

Meanwhile ICSA Ireland, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, welcomed the move but stressed it was of little consolation to Irish beef farmers.

Speaking to AgriLand this afternoon, beef chairman Edmond Phelan said: “It’s all fine and positive with these new markets opening up. There have been several announcements in recent months of new markets in North Africa, the Middle East and Japan, but it has made no difference to the farmers as the price for animals continue to fall. Until the processors are willingly to payback to the producers, it is of no benefit to us.”

He continued: “Yes this is very positive news. All new markets are very welcome but as long as there is excess cattle in the Irish market, the processors are going to squeeze us dry.”