Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue met with the leadership of the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) in Riyadh on Wednesday (February 16), where agreement in principle was reached to lift the current restriction whereby Irish beef exports to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia must come from cattle slaughtered under 30 months of age. 

Further technical engagement will now take place to complete the formalities to confirm the expanded access. 

Minister McConalogue has said that he also secured SFDA commitment to further technical engagement on sheepmeat access, and raised the possibility of poultry meat access in the future.

Speaking following the meeting with the SFDA CEO, Dr. Hisham bin Saad Aljadhey, Minister McConalogue said:

“Following a constructive meeting with the SFDA, I’m pleased to report that the requirement for all beef exported to Saudi Arabia to be from animals under 30 months has now been lifted.

“While the necessary formal exchanges remain to be completed, it is welcome news and comes following detailed engagement with the Saudi competent authorities by my department, with support from the Embassy of Ireland in Riyadh and the agricultural attache for the Gulf region.

“Ireland’s food exports to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia amounted to almost €100 million last year, dominated by dairy products,” the minister added.

“However, I see the market as one with growth potential, especially for Irish beef. I met with retail and food service customers this week in Riyadh and each expressed a strong desire to purchase more Irish products in the time ahead.”

The minister told Agriland:

“It’s a really, really important step forward for Irish beef. Also really good progress in relation to the sheep sector and agreement to continue to work closely to try and progress that.

“Meeting customers also over the two days, there is a good appetite there for sheepmeat; there is good market potential and obviously that is now about finalising and securing market access,” the minister added.

Sustainability of Irish beef

The minister explained that 70% of the Saudi population is under the age of 30 with a demand for quality, and a growing interest in the link between health and good nutritious food.

“Irish beef is synonymous with quality, sustainability and safety in the Gulf Region, and I am confident that the door will soon be open for a wider range of Irish beef access to the Saudi market,” McConalogue said.

“Our Food Vision 2030 strategy, and its integrated, food systems approach, was of considerable interest in both government and business engagements this week; as was the role of Sustainable Food Systems Ireland (SFSI) in sharing Irish agri-food expertise with international partners.”

Ailish Forde, director of global business at Bord Bia welcomed the success of the Saudi Arabia engagement: “Saudi Arabia represents considerable opportunity for the Irish food sector.

“The outcomes from the ministerial engagement this week are really positive, giving us further opportunities to a market with 35 million consumers.

“Bord Bia research illustrates the extent to which these consumers are interested in quality, natural and sustainably produced food. We look forward to engaging with key customers and stakeholders in the weeks and months ahead,” she added.

Trade mission to Gulf Region

Elsewhere on the Saudi leg of his trade mission to the Gulf Region, Minister McConalogue met with global dairy giant Almarai as well as premium retailer, Tamimi. 

Almarai has Irish roots dating back to its inception. It has over 60% of the domestic Saudi market of fresh dairy produce and uses ingredients from Irish dairy and food companies in its food service offering. 

Tamimi has over 80 stores across Saudi Arabia and is regarded as one of the leading premium retailers in the region. It already stocks Irish dairy produce and plans to expand this offering.

Today (Thursday, February 17) Minister McConalogue will take part in events at the first day of the ‘Food, Agriculture and Livelihoods’ week at EXPO 2020 Dubai.

The Irish Pavilion at EXPO will host panel discussions on sustainability and safety in our food system, bringing Ireland’s strong focus on these topics to a global audience. 

Earlier today, Minister McConalogue spoke at an Irish Business Network event in Dubai, and has been engaging with Bord Bia in facilitating meetings between Irish food businesses and potential customers.

Minister McConalogue commented: “It has been a privilege to lead my first in-person trade mission to the Gulf Region, and to see for myself how much Irish food is valued in this exciting market, and particularly how the story of Irish family farming resonates with people everywhere.

The ‘Team Ireland’ approach from all involved, including my department, Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland, SFSI, and participating Origin Green food companies, large and small, has really been impressive.

“I particularly thank Ambassador Aidan Cronin in Abu Dhabi, Irish Expo commissioner Pat Hennessy, Ambassador Gerard McCoy in Riyadh, Bord Bia regional manager, Kieran Fitzgerald in Dubai, and everyone on their teams, and my own team in the department, for the huge effort that went into the preparations to make this trade mission a success,” the minister said.