THE Irish beef industry got a major multi-million boost as the Taoiseach confirmed that the 13-year ban on exporting Irish beef and offal to Japan has been lifted with immediate effect.
The Government is currently in talks in an attempt to secure a similar deal with China.
A ban had been in place since the BSE disease outbreak in 2000, but now Ireland becomes one of three European countries, along with France and Denmark, allowed to export beef to Japan.
Speaking after the joint announcement with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Taoiseach said: "We reckon that this is worth about €15m a year, based on the fact that it was worth €10m in 2000 and we have to rebuild the market.
"Clearly this is of great significance to Ireland and Irish farming.
"It's been a very satisfactory outcome to a situation where the prime minister himself took a particular and personal interest."
The news of the breakthrough was greeted warmly back home in Ireland.
A spokesman for Meat Industry Ireland (MII) said it was "an important step" in rebuilding international market access for Irish meat exports.
"Japan is already an important market for Irish pigmeat and with the lifting of restrictions on beef, Irish companies, many of which are represented on the trade delegation, will be exploring new export opportunities in this market in the coming months," he said.
"MII is also hopeful that progress can be made in the near future to clear the way for sheep meat exports to the premium Japanese market."
And Dublin butcher Matt Gahan (72), out of retirement to help in a friend's butcher shop in Clontarf, said: "It's good news for the Irish economy and it's good to recognise that Irish beef is the best in the world. It should be available everywhere. Quality matters."
Both the Taoiseach and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney confirmed that talks were ongoing with China to allow the importation of Irish meat produce, with a group of experts from the Department of Agriculture due to take part in talks in China next week.
Mr Coveney said the group was part of a committee set up by the Irish and Chinese governments to discuss opening a beef trade with the economic superpower.
"Clearly the platform exists for Ireland to conclude a deal with China in due course also," he said, but added that there was no definite timeline for any deal.
"This is a case of building a sense of trust and understanding and that has to be done on the basis of standards and competency and professionalism," he said.
The state food marketing agency, Bord Bia, and more than 20 company representatives from the agri-food industry travelled to Japan in conjunction with the official visit, including the Irish Dairy Board, Glanbia, Kerry Group, Dairygold and Kepak.
In the late 1990s, the Japanese were buying 3,000 tonnes of Irish beef and offal. Japan was a lucrative outlet for a particular type of tripe – the lining of the cow's stomach – known as the 'mountain chain.'