Mark Zieg, beef sector manager, Bord Bia

The value of primary Irish beef exports is up 8% for the first six months of the year, despite volumes being back 3,496t. This value growth has been driven by growth in European Union (EU) markets, and higher prices in the UK.

The UK has taken 95,516t of Irish beef in the first six months of the year. The volume of Irish beef exported to the UK is 11% less than the same period last year (down 12,226t), however higher prices per kilo means exports are up over €3.8m so far.


Beef exports to EU markets have performed strongly for the first six months of the year. Volumes of beef exported to EU markets are up over 15,200t (18%), with total exports valued at €477m. Growth is driven by strong gains in Sweden and France, while the Netherlands and Belgium have also recorded volume and value growth.

Over 24,129t of Irish beef has been exported to France in the first six months of the year, up 36.5%. For the year to date, France is the most valuable EU beef market, overtaking the Netherlands, to reach €94.2m as of June. Dutch exports have also risen, up 11.7% in volume to 21,175t (€93.2m).

Beef exports to Sweden are up 184%, or €43m for the period. Some 13,602t of Irish beef has been exported to Sweden, up from 6,126t in the same period last year. On a volume basis, this places Sweden ahead of Italy, which has taken 13,043t of Irish beef up to the end of June. Volumes are back 7.5% to Italy but values remain strong at €74.6m (back 1.5%).

Tight supplies of Swedish and continental beef along with higher prices, resulted in Irish beef being a more attractive proposition in the Swedish market.

The exceptional performance this year is magnified when comparing against 2020 when Irish exports to Sweden were particularly weak. This was because heavy culling of the herd in Sweden meant greater availability of domestic supply than usual. Prospects for the rest of 2021 in Sweden look good.

Irish beef exports to Italy have been reported by the trade as steady in the first half of the year.

Demand from the retail sector has been strong in terms of volume and value achieved.

However, in the earlier part of the year Italy, like Ireland, had tight restrictions on the restaurant and hospitality sector, which only opened gradually in the early summer.

With a relatively high proportion of Irish beef exports normally destined for the food service sector, this affected overall demand levels in Italy.

International markets

The Philippines took 10,778t of Irish beef in the first six months of the year, an 11.2% fall.

The return of a lockdown in the Philippines in early 2020, resulted in greater consumer uncertainty and economic challenges.

This environment favoured beef imports from more competitively priced exporters such as India and Brazil.

However, the beef import requirement in the Philippines remains high, so an improvement in the economic situation would see a return to a good import demand for Irish beef. Exports to Japan have fallen significantly, down nearly 52% in volume from January to June, reflecting COVID-19 related uncertainty in the market. Customers have reduced their stock levels and imported less. This contrasts with the first half of 2020, when supplies from traditional exporters to the market were tight and prices increased rapidly, leading to unprecedented level of demand from other exporters, including Ireland.


Seamus McMenamin, Sheep sector manager, Bord Bia

Irish sheepmeat exports in the first half of 2021 were valued at €189m, an increase of 11% from the same period in 2020.

This strong increase in value terms has been driven by an increase in sheepmeat prices, with exports in volume terms back by 10% from year earlier levels at 31,597t.


Tighter supplies of sheepmeat on a global level and firm demand from Asian countries, in particular, have diverted sheepmeat products away from the EU markets.

This, combined with reduced production in the EU and lower levels of sheepmeat imports from the UK, has created opportunities for Irish exporters on our closest market despite our strong deadweight prices.

Exports to the EU were valued at €139m between January and June 2021, a 15% increase from 2020 levels.

Almost 75% of Irish sheep meat exports in value terms were destined for EU markets in the first half of 2021, making it the priority market for Irish exporters. This is up from 72% during the first half of 2020.

Key markets within the EU for Irish sheepmeat (in order of value) were France, Germany, Sweden, Belgium and Denmark and all recorded notable increases in the value of Irish sheepmeat they imported in the first half of this year.

However, given the reduced sheep throughput in Irish processing plants in the first half of this year and tighter supplies of sheepmeat as a result, there have been declines in exports to all these markets in volume terms.

There has, however, been some encouraging growth recorded in both the value and volume of sheepmeat exports to some Eastern European markets.

United Kingdom

While Britain continues to be an important outlet for the Irish sheep sector, it tends to be mostly for lower-value cuts and for food service products.

Sheepmeat exports from Ireland to Britain during the first six months of 2021 were valued at €27.3m, back 5.6% from the same period in 2020. In volume terms the level of trade was back by 25%.

Meanwhile trade with Northern Ireland has increased to €3.2m in the first six months of 2021, which is up 20% from 2020 levels. In volume terms exports of sheepmeat to Northern Ireland have increased by 26%.

International markets

Sheepmeat exports to international markets remain low at €19m in the first six months of 2021, though this is a 13% increase from the corresponding period in 2020.

There was also some encouraging growth in volume terms, with sheepmeat exports increasing by 11% to total 381t.

This growth in sheepmeat exports was driven primarily by higher exports to Asian markets including Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan and Singapore as well as markets in the Middle East such as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Switzerland has remained an important international market for Irish sheepmeat, with exports valued at €12.4m in the first half of 2021, a 6% increase from year earlier levels.


Peter Duggan, pigmeat and poultry sector manager, Bord Bia

Irish primary pigmeat exports for the first half of 2021 were 2% higher at 119,000t. This performance was underpinned by a 6% increase in domestic production on the back of some increase in the breeding herd recently combined with slightly heavier carcase weights.

International markets

The global pigmeat market has been adversely affected by lower Chinese import demand in recent months due to herd liquidation.

It is estimated by the Chinese Statistics Bureau, that Chinese pig production rose by 36% during the first half of 2021 compared to 2020 levels.

However, for the second half of 2021, this production increase is expected to slow down considerably as liquidation eases and producers wait for market signals to rebuild their holdings.

Following strong import demand for pigmeat in China for the first quarter of 2021, the second quarter has been more subdued with Chinese pigmeat imports falling by 9% to 1.4m tonnes compared to 2020 levels.

Last year, the Chinese market became the largest market for Irish pigmeat suppliers and it retains this position for 2021.

However, exports into the Chinese market have also begun to soften during recent months, with trade around 19% lower at 26,000t during the second quarter compared to the first quarter.

Other markets that have performed well in volume terms during 2021 include Australia, Japan and the Philippines.

Elsewhere, Irish pigmeat exports to the UK continue to decline.

Exports are down 14,000t for the first six months of the year, a drop in value of €46m.


The growth that has been evident across the Irish poultry industry in recent years has slowed down during 2021. For the first seven months of 2021, throughput levels increased slightly by almost 1% to 65.4m head compared to prior year levels.

This slower growth reflects ongoing disease risk, high feed costs and potential trade restrictions that have resulted in a more cautious approach to expansion.

Poultry exports have fallen by 28,000t or 53% for the first six months of 2021. Poultry suppliers have been adversely affected by declining imports from the UK market. This combined with South Africa suspending Irish poultry imports following an Avian Influenza outbreak last December has dampened demand for Irish poultry meat.