The US has lifted its ban on imports of sheepmeat from all EU countries.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said the move paved the way for full market access for Irish sheepmeat while Bord Bia and Meat Industry Ireland have signalled that the market can develop in to an important market outlet.

US sheepmeat consumption is small when compared to other meat proteins but has been growing by 2% to 3% annually, with this expected to continue.

The market is also becoming more reliant on imports of sheepmeat to meet demand.

Domestic production has fallen to 65,000t or by 35,000t over the last two decades.

Imports have accelerated in the last decade, up approximately 60,000t since 2010 to compensate for this shortfall in domestic production and meet growing demand.

Total imports for 2020 were in the region of 136,000t, with Australia supplying 75% of this and New Zealand a further 23%.

The next step in advancing exports is agreement of a health certificate and terms of trade.

This is not seen as a significant barrier to progress with lifting of the ban the major stumbling block faced since beef was granted access to the US in 2015.