Minister may go to Egypt over ban on cattle


THE Minister for Agriculture has indicated that he and the Taoiseach are available to travel to Egypt to discuss its ban on the importation of live cattle from Ireland.

Cattle exporters were confident that three ships en route to Egypt, with a total of 5,000 cattle, would be allowed to dock, but this could not be confirmed in Cairo.

The Minister, Mr Yates, said the decision on travelling to Egypt would be taken in the next few days. "Both I and the Taoiseach will be available to travel. It is a matter of when is the most appropriate time," he said.

Mr Yates will brief the Cabinet today on the budgetary and other implications of the six-month Egyptian ban, which was signed by the Egyptian Agriculture Minister, Dr Walli, on Monday. It does not apply to beef carcases, which were worth nearly £30 million last year.

A Government spokesman said the Taoiseach, Mr Bruton, was keeping in close contact with the situation.

"Contact is being maintained with the Egyptians through diplomatic channels and the Minister for Agriculture hopes to make contact with his Egyptian counterpart as soon as possible," the spokesman added.

"The possibility of the Taoiseach communicating directly with President Mubarak will be considered in the light of the outcome of the contacts at ministerial and diplomatic level," the spokesman concluded.

As the Minister met farm leaders in Dublin last night, the Departments of the Taoiseach, Foreign Affairs and Agriculture were meeting to develop a strategy to have the ban lifted as quickly as possible.

The secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Mr Michael Dowling, is travelling to Paris on Friday to see if a common strategy can be worked out with French officials to ease the ban. The Egyptian decree covers live cattle exports from France and Portugal and places a total ban on live cattle and beef from Switzerland, which has the highest rate of BSE in the world after Britain.

Yesterday the trade was thrown into confusion as meat factories refused to quote prices for bullocks for the rest of the week.

The Egyptian ban on the live trade, which was worth £80 million last year, has come as the beef industry is negotiating with Russia for a continuation of trade, following its partial ban on beef from three Irish counties.

Speaking on Farm News on RTE radio last night, Mr Yates said there was ongoing political, diplomatic and technical dialogue with Russia, which is reviewing its ban.

"We are entering a process of difficult negotiations now. I cannot predict with certainty what the outcome will be but I am still confident that Russia will take the volume of meat that they have taken heretofore," said Mr Yates.

A spokesman for the IFA said last night it was its understanding that the ban on Irish cattle had not been officially promulgated in Egypt. Egyptian law required that notice of such a ban had to be published and a deadline announced.

Mr Gus Fitzpatrick, spokesman for the live export trade, said it was also his understanding that the Egyptians would abide by their own regulations to accept any cattle that were loaded and at sea before the ban came into force.