After a break of more than 16 years the live cattle trade from Ireland to Libya is set to resume. International livestock trading and shipping company Al Mahmoud has teamed up with Irish exporter Waterford Livestock Export Ltd to make this happen.
Livestock carrier the Al Mahmoud Express, which has undergone major refurbishment to meet Irish standards, is due in Waterford port in two weeks' time to get its final approval and to be loaded with a consignment of 2,900 young bulls.
Over the past 10 days, directors of the Al Mahmoud Company have visited Irish farms along with Waterford Livestock Export Ltd directors Dermot Tobin and John Fleury identifying and sourcing the bulls for this first trial shipment. This will take beef cross bulls of 240kg to 350kg that are under 24 months. Probably most of these will be dairy crosses.
The bulls must be free of all skin blemishes such as ringworm and be fully dehorned and within 12 months of a TB test.
Assuming that the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, gives the Al Mahmoud Express the final OK, the cattle will be assembled at the export lairage in Waterford pre-shipping.
A spokesman for Waterford Livestock Export Ltd said that once the cattle were accepted, payment based on the delivered yard weight would be made either by cheque or electronic bank transfer to the seller's account.
Mr Omar Mahmoud Chouihna, director of Al Mahmoud, said he wanted beef cross bulls for this first shipment but that later consignments will look at Holstein bulls as well.
His company operates five large cattle boats and is involved in global livestock farming and trading. He said he was also interested in getting a sister ship to the Al Mahmoud Express upgraded to Irish specification.
The Al Mahmoud directors met with the IFA over the weekend and the organisation welcomed plans to resume live exports to Libya.
IFA president John Bryan said a strong live export trade was absolutely essential for the €2bn Irish beef and livestock sector in terms of competition with the factories and to secure market outlets for the extra cattle in the system.
"The Department of Agriculture have made substantial progress on re-opening the live trade to Libya, Egypt and the Lebanon, with veterinary certificates now in place for all three markets for the first time since 1995," Mr Bryan said.
The ICSA has also welcomed the progress that has been made on re-opening the Libyan market for live exports.
"Developing more markets for Irish beef must always be a priority, so progress on opening the Libyan market is very welcome – especially given the increased input costs farmers are facing and the fact that Irish meat processors and are paying a lot less than their British counterparts," said Edmond Phelan, the ICSA beef committee chairman.
ICMSA leader John Comer said the resumption of live exports to Libya would provide a real boost for livestock farmers. However, he said the price paid would have to be competitive with that available from the factories.
Any re-opening of the live export trade should result in stronger competition for cattle. It will also provide an outlet for the additional 150,000hd of cattle that are expected to come on stream through 2013.
Although it is unclear how many cattle Libya will take this year, at its height in the mid-1990s, the live trade to the Middle East was worth over €130m and 260,000 cattle were shipped. Egypt took around 175,000hd in 1995, with Libya importing more than 80,000hd.