Irish agri-food exports hit a record 12.6bn last year, according to new figures from Bord Bia, with sales growth to the UK continuing to grow despite Brexit fears.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed announced that the value of Irish food, drink and horticulture exports increased by 13pc in 2017, to reach €12.6 billion for the first time.
Speaking at the launch of Bord Bia’s Export Performance and Prospects 2017-2018 report, the Minister said “last year marked the 8th successive year of growth for total Irish agri-food exports, to reach a record of €13.5 billion."
Overall, the value of food and drink exports was up 13pc and broken down by sector, the value of live animal exports was up 21pc to €175m, the largest increase by sector.
Dairy remains the most valuable sector, with exports of products and ingredients valued at €4bn, up 19pc, and now accounts for one third of all food and drink exports.
Irish beef exports were up 5pc in value, which represents a fifth of all exports at almost €2.5bn.
Bord Bia CEO, Tara McCarthy, emphasised how increased volume in our key export sectors, combined with strong market returns, helped boost trade throughout 2017.
“In terms of yearly growth rates, the dairy sector grew by almost 20 percent to reach €4.02 bln, confirming its position as the number one exporting sector. Within the dairy sector, the value of Ireland’s butter exports rose by a remarkable 60pc this year alone, to reach €879m.
"This growth accounted for over half of the total increase in dairy exports. Notwithstanding its impact on the overall export figures, it is worth noting that increased export volumes recorded for both beef and dairy also played a pivotal role in this year’s export performance. Pigmeat and sheepmeat also recorded increased volumes, at 3 and 14pc respectively.”
However, she also highlighted the currency risk that remains for all sectors especially those such as horticulture and prepared foods that are hugely dependent on the UK market.
“Sterling volatility, combined with slower economic growth, food inflation and lower wage forecasts, will put further pressure on the UK market as an export destination. While the UK remains our most important market, these prospects provide an additional incentive for Irish exporters to explore new markets within the EU26 and beyond.”
The UK remains Ireland’s key export market, however the percentage share of exports to the UK declined by two points to 35pc of total exports. This reduction disguises the fact that sales still increased for the year by 7pc to over €4.5bn.
Exports to other EU countries have risen by 16pc to over €4bn accelerating last year’s growth, mainly driven by strong dairy exports, which rose by over 40pc to €1.2bn, as well as enhanced growth for seafood and pigmeat sales, and a continued strong presence of beverages and prepared foods.
Shipments of Irish food and drink to international markets grew by 17pc to exceed €4bn for the first time. These are driven by strong sales of dairy products in North America, Africa and Asia, and beverages which performed well in North America.
Dairy accounts for some 45pc of all sales to international markets, while beverages represent some 19pc of total international exports.