Why Ireland is looking to crack the Japanese food market

Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

This week the Minister for Agriculture leads a trade mission to Japan and South Korea to promote Irish food exports, in particular, beef and dairy.

According to the Minister, 55pc of the world’s population will be living in the South East Asia region by 2050 and the EU’s updated trade agreement with Japan is good news for Ireland, he said, presenting Ireland with an opportunity to reap the economic benefits from the EU-Japan trade deal, especially in terms of agri-exports.

Some 25 meat and dairy companies are on the trade mission, looking to tap into the Japanese population of 125m and the South Korean population of 50m people. And it's the growing middle classes that the Irish companies are looking to sell to. Japanese consumers eat around 48kg of meat every year, while pigmeat is the largest consumed meat - accounting for roughly 15.3kg of the 48kg.

Currently, Japan is Ireland's 11th most important trading and is expected to increase its imports of dairy.

In 2016, Ireland exported E56m worth of food and drink to Japan and the EU deal with Japan plans for the scrapping of duties on many European cheeses such as Gouda and Cheddar (current duties are 29.8pc).

In addition, it will allow the EU to increase its beef exports to Japan substantially, while on pork there will be duty-free trade in processed meat and almost duty-free trade for fresh meat.

Some 43,500t of Irish beef is currently sent to Japan at a tariff of 38.5pc, which could be reduced to 9pc over 15 years.

The increase will be the first time the tariff mechanism has been tripped for beef imports since it was last triggered for chilled beef in August 2003, the farm ministry said.

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Japan is the world's third-largest economy, with a population of about 127 million. EU firms already export over €58bn in goods and €28bn in services to Japan annually.

A final text on the proposed EU-Japan FTA deal will be presented by the end of the year, before coming before the European Parliament for review, as well as EU Member States

According to the Minister Japan is looking to diversify its food sources and Ireland can fulfil that requirement.

The trade mission, he said, will not just be an opportunity to sell Irish food produce but also to cement the impression of Ireland the food island.

Some 40 representatives from 25 different Irish food companies are accompanying the Minister on the trip, mainly from meat and dairy companies. “Beef and dairy are central to the trade mission,” he said.

However, he said that it's up to individual companies when a market is opened how much product goes into the market. "We will shift as much of the market will pay an optimum price for," he said, declining to put a possible monetary value on the markets.

Beef exports have significant opportunity to grow in volumes due to reducing tariffs over the next five years, he said, but he said currency movements can have a huge effect on markets.

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