Turkey live import suspension could remain until late spring

Boatloads of Irish cattle may not set sail for Turkey until late spring this year, as the live import suspension is now not expected to lift until late March or even April.

Last week, it emerged that import access to the Turkish market had been restricted in a bid to reduce pressure on the domestic market.

In a statement to AgriLand, Ibrahim Ozkaya, assistant commercial counsellor at the Turkish Embassy in Dublin said: “The Turkish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has been conducting an analysis of the livestock market in Turkey.

Therefore, live imports have been suspended temporarily, not just for Ireland, but for all countries which were given import permission previously.

Although initial indications were that the suspension on issuing licences for cattle into Turkey – where the Government has been promoting imports in recent years – would continue until mid-February, Joe Burke, sector manager for beef and livestock at Bord Bia, now anticipates a longer wait.

“The situation is that the Turkish Ministry for Agriculture has suspended issuing licences for the import of cattle. There will be small numbers of cattle still coming in on licences that have been issued prior to now – up to mid-February – but they are not going to issue any further licences in order to allow the market to clear and the balance to recover.

“In recent months there have been more cattle on the market than demand has been able to support – and so Turkish cattle prices and the lira have been weakening.”

According to Burke it is expected that this will lead to more demand and competition for the available supplies – no licences are being issued to South American countries either which have made up the bulk of cattle imports to Turkey over the last 12 months.

“Although the current suspension is expected to last from now until the end of February, it has been suggested that it might go on later than that.

It could be March or April before they start to issue licences for import again.

On the back of Turkish cattle buyers taking in about 30,000 head from Ireland in 2017; it was hoped that a target of 50,000 head was achievable by the end of 2018 – however, after the crash of the lira currency last autumn, buying power for live cattle was completely undermined.

As for this year’s prospects, Burke says it’s difficult to get an exact steer on what is going on with the market at the moment.

“You hear information through the trade, but the Turkish Ministry is not that pro-active when it comes to sending out communication to the exporting countries.

“This time last year it was slowing down significantly on where it had been in 2017 – just 13,000 cattle went out; the bulk in the first half of the year – so, there is an absence of buyers that would have represented some optimism and some additional demand,” he said.

North African uncertainty

Burke says market optimism for North Africa is also somewhat subdued – particularly due to recent media reports of internal Foot-and-Mouth disease outbreaks in the region.

“There is no one big market that would take boatloads of good-quality weanlings. Libya would be a market that would take somewhat lesser-quality bulls; generally they would be heavier, plainer bulls.

“You would also have markets in North Africa, the likes of Morocco, Tunisia, that would take the good-quality lighter bulls – but in smaller quantities. They would be going out in truckloads rather than full boatloads.

“There was some buying on the part of some exporters last autumn for those markets, but it’s a bit uncertain at the moment.

Some of those markets have had problems with Foot-and-Mouth disease in the recent past – Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria – that could suspend their importing activity.

“If there are active inquiries for a particular market like that, and if there is a health scare, it can put an end to it fairly quickly and the market could be closed for a period of a few months,” Burke cautioned.

Last year 686 Irish weanlings went to Morocco; while Tunisia took just 164 head, according to Bord Bia.

“There would have been years when either of those markets would have taken up on 20,000 weanlings.

Also Read: Live cattle exports 2019: ‘We’re optimistic Algeria will come on stream’

“Even last year collectively our exports of weanlings were just over 60,000; so it is an important outlet to keep for those categories of animals,” said Burke.

Although calves will make up the bulk of the country’s live exports over the coming spring months – a total of 158,771 calves were exported to multiple markets in 2018 – Burke stressed the importance of export markets for all cattle.

“It’s great to have other ages of cattle going out, not just the calves – otherwise, they are going to have to be reared and finished and slaughtered in this country.

“We are watching the North African markets very closely; I’ve only been talking with a few commercial livestock operators so far, but I haven’t had confirmation of an outbreak in any official capacity,” he said.