Considering the challenges faced in 2020, exports in the Irish meat sector “delivered a remarkable performance”, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) has said.

The Ibec meat industry group was commenting following the publication of Bord Bia’s Export Performance and Prospects report today (Wednesday, January 13).

The report showed an increase of 2% in overall meat exports despite the major disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic, the uncertainty of Brexit, and the loss of the Chinese market for beef exports.

While the value of beef and poultry exports fell 2%, the pigmeat and sheepmeat sectors showed strong growth, up 14% and 12% respectively.

The continued diversification into new markets was a welcome trend. Our pigmeat sector now leads the way with over 40% of exports destined for markets outside the UK and EU, the group said.

Our beef exports, while remaining highly reliant on the UK market, have shown significant diversification in recent years: In 2016, the year of the Brexit vote, the UK accounted for 56% of Irish beef exports, but this had reduced to 44% last year.

Commenting on the export performance of the meat sector, MII director Cormac Healy said:

“Our members worked hard to find alternative markets for Irish meat exports in the face of an overnight shutdown of the restaurant and food service market channel due to Covid lockdowns.

Meat export companies and their staff had to be agile in approach to the changing market dynamics, all in the context of significantly changed working arrangements.

“The meat and livestock sector remains a cornerstone of Ireland’s export economy and is particularly important to the economic well-being of rural Ireland.

“While the value of beef exports fell slightly due to its significant reliance on food service sales and the absence of the Chinese market from May 2020, exceptional performance was delivered by both the pigmeat and sheepmeat sectors.”

MII hopes that 2021 will bring more stable conditions and better prospects in certain key market outlets but there are a number of areas that are critical.

These include four key points:
  1. Ongoing Covid-19 impact;
  2. Post-Brexit trade disruption;
  3. Exports to China;
  4. More resourcing of market access.

Concluding, Healy said: “The industry should be proud of the remarkable resilience it has shown in an extremely challenging year.”