Irish beef exports for the first nine months of 2022 reached 390,431t, up from 347,533t for the same period last year.

While 2022 has been a year in which Irish beef achieved record farmgate prices, it remains seriously dependent on the UK as the primary export market, followed by western EU countries.

Despite multiple attempts to build markets in North America and Asia, success has been at best limited.

In the period from January to the end of September 2022, Irish beef exports to Britain were 135,067t, up from 119,510t in the same period in 2021. Volumes to the North were up almost 22,000t to 53,423t.

Sales to the EU have also increased for the first nine months of this year, up from 151,650t in the same period in 2021 to 170,133t.

Within the EU, France is the largest volume market for Irish beef exports, taking over 47,000t, followed by Netherlands on 28,443t, then Italy on 24,771t and Germany on 18,059t.

Less positive outside Europe

While Irish beef exports have increased overall in the first nine months of this year, performance outside Europe has been disappointing.

Most notable is the collapse in sales to the USA, which are down 65% to just over 2,000t from an already low base of 5,742t in the same period in 2021, having reached a peak the previous year at 7,013t.

While Irish sales to the US had already been struggling, they received a further blow this year when Brazil increased its exports to the US from 37,844t in the period January to November 2021 to a massive 103,261t in the same period this year.

Both Irish and Brazilian beef had been entering the US under a 64,000t quota for countries that don’t have a trade deal with the US and Brazil had this all used up by April.

Beef entering without quota was subject to a 25% tariff, which made Irish beef uncompetitive.

Beef exports to Canada have remained stable at a modest 2,093t for the first nine months of 2022, slightly down on last year. Of course, there are no tariff issues with Canada for Irish beef exports because of the CETA trade deal with the EU.

Asia and Africa

Beef volumes to Asia had been growing up until 2020, when the recently opened Chinese market closed with the discovery of a BSE case.

There was a modest fall between the first nine months of 2020 and the same period of 2021, as sales to Hong Kong increased, but there was a major fall from 28,081t in January to September 2021 to just 17,500t this year.

Bord Bia interim CEO Michael Murphy and Minister McConalogue launching the first Irish beef to hit premium retailer shelves in Japan. Despite best efforts, volumes to Japan remain small.

All of the countries in Asia that Ireland exports to have shown a reduction. Volumes to Africa have increased, but remain low at 4,498t between January and September 2022.

Comment - difficulty with expanding markets

Despite the investment of time and money by Bord Bia and the Department to broaden the Irish beef export market, the reality is that little has changed over the past decade.

Markets have been opened (and closed in the case of China), but the volumes remain small.

The reality is that the British market is one of the most lucrative in the world, is on our doorstep and, until recently, protected by tariffs from external supply.

Similarly with the EU, it was the next closest protected option. Our processing industry is also intertwined with companies in the same group and can bring a complete offering to the biggest food service and supermarket customers.

Globally, the US is established in Japan, while the US has benefited from historically cheap supplies from Australia and New Zealand.

China was a new market five years ago, but this has been captured by the South American countries and the US in our absence.

The big risk to Irish beef producers is that the UK is in the process of transitioning to being an open market for Australia and New Zealand, and we can only hope that we are more successful in defending our position in that market than we have been in opening new markets.

Read more

Beef demand falls in Britain but rises in China

Irish soft power not working for beef in China