A ban on sheepmeat from the EU entering the US has been lifted, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue has confirmed.

The minister welcomed the move from US authorities, saying it “represents the removal of the a major impediment to access to the US market”.

“This development is very significant and paves the way for full market access for Irish sheepmeat.

He said that his department will now be engaging with their counterparts in the US on the next steps to full access and to “ensure that Irish sheepmeat exports to this valuable market will be able to commence as soon as possible”.

“This is an important recognition of the hard work our sheep farmers carry out in producing a top-quality product,” the minister added.

Minister of State with responsibility for new market development Martin Heydon commented: “Having recently met with a delegation from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), this market access for sheepmeat is welcome news for our sheep sector.

“In preparation for this key step, and to ensure Ireland is well positioned to take advantage of this opportunity in a timely manner, a number of important actions have been taken by the department in cooperation with Bord Bia and industry over several years.”

In September 2017, the relevant US competent authority conducted an onsite audit of Ireland’s meat inspection system, including sheepmeat.

This report was finalised in May 2018, and discussion followed towards securing equivalency for Ireland’s sheepmeat inspection system.

In April 2019, the US competent authority notified the department here that it was reinstating the equivalence of Ireland’s sheepmeat system.

Although sheepmeat is a niche product in the US, the market for it there is said to be growing.

Consumption has been growing by between 2% to 3% annually for some time, reaching 194,000t in 2020, whereas domestic US sheepmeat production was only around 63,000t last year.