Beef exports to US worth just €194,000 since lifting of ban

CSO figures reveal trade fell well short of Government’s €100m target by end of year

The State’s beef exports to the US were worth just €194,000 for the first six months of 2015. File photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The State’s beef exports to the US were worth just €194,000 for the first six months of 2015. File photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

 

Irish beef exports to the US were worth just €194,000 for the first six months of 2015, well short of the Government’s €100 million target by the end of the year.

Figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) reveal that only 31 tonnes of beef has been shipped to the US since the much-publicised lifting of the ban in January.

At the time, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney predicted the US could take up to 20,000 tonnes of Irish beef, worth €100 million, this year and more in subsequent years.

The figures will come as a disappointment to the industry, which had been hoping to take advantage of historically high US beef prices and a growing demand for hormone-free, grass-fed beef.

The Republic remains the only EU state to be granted access to the US market since the BSE-inspired embargo of the late 1990s, affording the industry here a first-mover advantage on European rivals.

However, experts believe the trade will not take off until the current licence is widened to include mince, known in the trade as manufactured beef, which is driven by demand from the burger industry.

Currently, the deal forged between Dublin and Washington is only for high-value steak cuts, such as fillet, rib-eye and sirloin, which represent a small portion of the US import market.

Bord Bia’s beef market specialist Joe Burke acknowledged the figures were weaker than those predicted at the start of the year, suggesting they reflect the “high returns” currently available in Europe. This may have acted as a disincentive for exporters to seek markets elsewhere, he said.

Trade with the UK, the State’s biggest beef export market, has risen this year despite a slowdown in output, with exporters benefiting from the relative weakness of the euro.

Exports to Britain

The State currently exports about 240,000 tonnes of beef to Britain - more than 50 per cent of total output - which is worth about €1.1 billion to the economy.

Mr Burke said Government aspirations of exporting 20,000 tonnes a year to the US were “not going to materialise” until the State gained access to the larger mince segment of the US market, where demand is strongest.

In a statement on Thursday night, the Department of Agriculture said: “There are four plants approved to export beef to the US and a number of others are going through the approval process at present.

“The Department is at present working through a complex technical process to agree the terms on which manufacturing beef can be exported to the US, and positive progress is being made.”

According to sources, hygiene protocols connected with the processing of manufactured beef still need to be bridged before the licence can be widened. The US authorities are understood to insist on different E.coli prevention measures.

Larry Goodman’s ABP Foods was the first European firm to begin supplying the US beef market since the lifting of the ban, having secured a contract with food distributor Sysco.

The US is likely to seek a lifting of restrictions on its beef exports to Europe as a quid pro quo for letting Europe back into the US, under the proposed EU-US trade deal.

The current trade arrangements limit the US to exporting about 30,000 tonnes of beef into Europe before a punitive tariff kicks in.

An easing of these rules is expected to disrupt the pattern of trade in Europe, with an influx of US beef lowering prices and eroding producer margins.

A recent report by the research group, Copenhagen Economics, suggests the beef industry here stands to lose between €25 million and €50 million a year in this scenario.