Following on from the Government trade mission to Korea last week, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Martin Heydon is this week leading an agri-food delegation to Malaysia and the Philippines. Bord Bia said its goals for the trade mission to the two countries were to target new customers for meat and dairy, to address market access issues for beef and poultry to Malaysia and for poultry to Philippines and, lastly, to enhance the awareness and reputation of Ireland as a source of sustainable, safe and high-quality food and drink.

The Irish Farmers Journal sat down with both the minister and Bord Bia CEO Jim O’Toole, to discuss progress on these goals, and also the wider opportunities for Irish agricultural exports to the region.

Minister Haydon said that in his meeting with the Malaysian Minister for Agriculture and his officials, there was good progress made on gaining market access for poultry, with only a few technical pieces left before Irish duck would be allowed into Malaysia.

“They have committed to taking care of the issues by the end of the year, and we’re quite confident on that. There’s big growth potential for that market here.”

On beef, there was less good news, as it seems there has been little progress made on accessing the market for halal beef to serve the Muslim-majority population.

“We’re looking to progress access for beef, we’re not there yet, but building those relationships and the officials getting to meet is a key, important part of that.”

The minister said there was also a focus in Malaysia on the products Ireland does have market access for.

“We gained market access for pork a year ago, and there are really significant opportunities here for us to grow that market. This week I launched pork into the services industry here, meeting with key distributors who are excited about selling Irish pork as a high-end market product.”

Pork in Malaysia is only consumed by the non-Muslim minority in the country, mainly made up of ethnic Chinese.

On the dairy side, Heydon said that southeast Asia in general had huge growth potential for Irish dairy.

“Obviously we are seeing reduced interest in the infant formula market due to lower birth rates. But there’s massive potential for health nutrition, particularly for an aging population.”

Bord Bia CEO Jim O’Toole highlighted the meetings with key customers, saying “the feedback from those meetings is positive in terms of the opportunity we seek to grow. The process of the trade mission is all about engagement, and having senior level engagement with those key customers does have an impact in terms of raising awareness”.

He also highlighted the opportunities for pork and said that Malaysia is a key market for dairy.

In 2022 Malaysia imported just under €60m of Irish dairy products. This, however, was an almost 5% drop from 2021, and a move in stark contrast to the Philippine market, where Irish dairy exports more than doubled from €35m in 2021 to €72m in 2022.

“When you look at Southeast Asia as a whole, dairy exports are growing year-on-year. If you look at any one market in isolation, you’ll see some volatility. Often that is because some of our customers are multinational companies and you’ll see volumes move between markets from year to year. But over the long term, and even in the Malaysian market, there is growth. The last 12 months do not reflect the potential we see, both volume and value down the line,” O’Toole explained.

“When you look at the proportion of the global population that is in Southeast Asia, and the forecasts for growth and changes in diet, you can see this is very much a medium- and long-term play. In the short term there can be volatility due to stocks and product mixes, which can change on a very uneven basis.”

On beef, Bord Bia say that the Philippines is the largest export market for Irish beef outside of Europe, with the country taking 18,000t of Irish beef and beef offal valued at €50m.

Primary beef exports (excluding offal) grew from €14m to €44m over the five years to 2022. While it is a smaller market in terms of value, pig meat exports from Ireland to Philippines have also shown significant growth rising from €8m is 2018 to €24m in 2022.

“This is our first trade mission to the Philippines. The fact that our minister and officials get to meet each other face to face can progress things. We have a pork and beef seminar in Manila this week which again will give a chance to engage with key customers in the country.”


In international trade there is something called the gravity theory, where countries trade most with other countries closest to them. This makes sense for many reasons and if you look at Ireland’s food exports, we can see that play out. The majority of the food produced in this country does not travel far to its final destination, whether that is in the UK or in Europe. Short journey times, strong customer relationships, common regulatory regimes and even being in the same time zone, all help make trading with neighbours the best option.

It might, therefore, seem like something of a waste of time to travel halfway around the world to try to open new markets for a product that will then also have to travel so far, and face different regulations, different specifications and even a different time zone. They even have their own idiosyncratic risks like has been clearly illustrated by disappointing news from China this week. It will always be more difficult to get product to the Philippines than to Portsmouth.

However, that does not mean it shouldn’t be done. The differences in the markets like those in Southeast Asia can prove advantageous to Irish producers, as they give a outlet for some products which may be more difficult to sell in local markets.

But, more importantly, they give diversification. If European or UK markets are slowing, then having customers who may be in a completely different part of the economic cycle can provide a cushion for Irish producers.

Yes, trading with your neighbours is always the best option, but it is even better to make sure we do not have all our eggs in one basket.

The sudden closure of China to beef following the BSE case this week reinforces this view and trade missions help deliver more market options.