Kenny looks to seal €12m beef deal on Japan trip
A BEEF export deal worth €12m a year is expected to be the main prize from a five-day visit by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to Japan.
The trip, the first to Japan by a Taoiseach since 2009, runs until this Thursday, and it is understood that an announcement on a multi-million beef deal will be made following his meeting with the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, tomorrow evening.
Speaking on his arrival in Tokyo yesterday, the Taoiseach described a potential beef trade with Japan as "more high-value than high-volume".
"It's a long way from Ireland to here, but there are only four countries that have access to the Japanese market for beef and Ireland would be the fifth and would be very important as an outlet. So we hope to be able to conclude that with Prime Minister Abe," Mr Kenny said.
Japanese beef imports have increased by 14pc from 2008 to 2013 and so a re-opening of the beef trade with Ireland is regarded as a timely opportunity. Already, Japan is the third-largest destination for Irish food exports to Asia. In 2012, Irish food and drink exports were valued at €36m, dominated by pork (€14.4m), dairy (€8.1m), and seafood (€6.4m).
The state food marketing agency, Bord Bia, and over 25 company representatives from the agri-food industry have travelled to Japan in conjunction with the official visit, including the Irish Dairy Board, Glanbia, Kerry Group, Dairygold and Kepak.
Japan is the largest importer of beef in Asia, with the total volume bought in 2012 amounting to over 514,000 tonnes.
The Japanese market for Irish beef has been closed since 2000 because of the BSE crisis, but was a valuable outlet and took 3,000 tonnes of beef and offal valued at just over €10m a year through the late 1990s.
During this period Japan was a lucrative outlet for a particular type of tripe – the lining of the cow's stomach – that was known as the 'mountain chain'.
Irish beef processors will be keen to re-establish these markets and assess the viability of exporting high-value beef cuts to Japanese supermarkets.
However, it is unlikely that the Asian giant will become a big volume buyer of Irish beef. Over the last decade, Ireland has developed very lucrative contracts with the main retailers in Britain, Holland, Germany and other EU countries.
Given that these contracts pay among the highest prices for beef globally and take the bulk of Ireland's export volumes, Irish beef companies would not have the capacity to take on any large-scale business in Japan.
However, the opening of the Japanese market would be a very valuable vote of confidence in Irish beef. Ireland is one of the largest beef-exporting nations in the Northern Hemisphere and exports 80pc of the beef it produces each year.
The move to re-open the Japanese market follows a visit by Japanese veterinary inspectors to a number of Irish beef slaughtering plants recently.
Japan could also offer valuable export opportunities for Irish pork.
The country is one of the world's largest consumers of pork, ranking 12th in the world, and imports account for almost 50pc of overall demand.
However, domestic supply difficulties could provide an opportunity for the pigmeat sector in Ireland.
Mr Kenny is accompanied on his visit by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, and his schedule will include meetings with the Crown Prince Naruhito as well as the prime minster.
This morning, the Taoiseach meets with the Japan Meat Traders Association.