The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue has said that the fact that the first trade mission organised post-Covid-19 restrictions is to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), shows the importance of the region for Irish food exports, especially dairy exports.

Speaking to Agriland in Dubai today (Monday, February 14), the minister said that Irish dairy products and ingredients are proving extremely popular in the UAE.

The minister has already participated in Gulfood in Dubai this week, where 14 Irish companies are exhibiting at the largest food trade show in the region.

“We’ve seen it (the UAE market] increase by about 150% in the past 10 years and the UAE was worth about €55 million in exports last year, so there is real potential here across a number of food fronts,” the minister said.

“Obviously dairy is the most significant sector and also offers the largest potential. It currently makes up about 90% of our exports to the region – that’s something we want to develop.”

The minister added that Ireland also wants to continue to develop our “beef offering” to the UAE and said some Irish companies are moving towards plant-based products, which is a “market we have to seek to dominate too”, he explained.

Minister McConalogue said that the trade mission, which involves meetings and events in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi has been “energising” for him “as minister to be here yesterday and today and meeting with customers and to have that opportunity to develop relationships”.

Dairy exports

While dairy products and ingredients are attractive for the UAE market, with the impending sectoral carbon budgets which seek to stabilise and reduce emissions, the question arises as to whether Ireland will still be able to continue producing the amount of dairy output we currently have, and if it will be enough to fulfill new market demands.

“The reality is that 90% of all the food that we produce is exported and in order to do right by all the farmers who work so hard, 365 days a year, it’s really important that we have a strong offering, and nationally as a country, in terms of how we market our food internationally,” the minister said.

“We will see growth in the years ahead but the key growth we want to see is in value over that time. The Food Vision 2030 strategy outlines how we are going to continue to grow over the next decade, but particularly how we are going to add value.

“The plan that everyone has signed up to, and everyone is going to work together to deliver on, is about seeing our exports increase from the €14 billion they are now to €21 billion over that period of time.”

Kieran Fitzgerald, Bord Bia showing Minister Charlie McConalogue the Irish produce on offer at Spinneys in Dubai

Challenge of emissions

The minister said that the challenge to increasing exports is the backdrop of having to stabilise emissions.

“Not just in the dairy sector, but also lowering emissions across agri-food. We have committed in the Food Vision 2030 document and also in our Climate Action Plan to reduce those emissions,” Minister McConalogue added.

“That’s going to be important as well in terms of adding value to the produce we actually sell here in [UAE] and also gaining new customers.

“What we have always done well is safe, traceable, nutritious food, but also building on what we have also done really well and we have a real national advantage with – our sustainability credentials.”

The minister said key clients for Irish produce, such as Spinneys in the UAE, are adept at “marketing the premiumisation” of products, such as sustainable, grass-based dairy and meat.