Irish beef exports in 2020 have followed a familiar pattern to previous years, with the UK being the main market followed by the EU27. Of note are some promising signs emerging from North America and Asia. Overall beef exports were marginally lower between January and October 2020 down 1% when compared to 2019. Exports to the UK were down 3% to 188,789t. Beef exports to the EU 27 during this period were down 8% to 147,823t.
Irish beef exports have made significant progress in North American markets for the first time since the resumption of trade following the BSE ban. Despite being the first EU country to get access to the US market in 2015, it was only in 2019 that we began to see meaningful beef exports, with 2020 volumes subsequently doubling to 8,174t. This may be small when comparing with the UK or several EU markets, but the US is now one of our largest markets outside of Europe. Trade with Canada is also progressing well, with 3,203t of Irish beef exported there between January and October this year compared with just a few hundred tonnes in 2019.
In total 34,994t of Irish beef went to Asian markets in the first 10 months of this year, with Philippines being the largest market taking 17,712t – similar to 2019 levels. Hong Kong followed with 7,237t.
China is the disappointment of 2020. Though it was the destination for 6,435t of Irish beef, this all came in the first four months as the discovery of a BSE case in May caused a suspension of exports. It was expected that this would be a short-term disruption pending an investigation and report, but as year end approaches trade is yet to resume.
Japan is showing some promise as a market for Irish beef, taking 3,373t this year compared with just 228t in 2019 – this is mainly down to a reduction of the 38.5% import tariff placed on beef by the Japanese government, making Irish beef more competitive.
Progress in developing markets outside and the EU and UK is slow for beef. These are among the highest value markets in the world and their geographic closeness is another attraction. We would have expected China to be a market for 30,000t of Irish beef annually at this stage, but we haven’t managed to get it going again after the BSE case in May. Elsewhere, the US and Canada are showing promise from a very low base and are markets worth watching along with Japan where the reduction of tariffs certainly makes Irish beef more competitive, though competition from Australia and the US remains stiff.