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Beef expansion hindered by ongoing spectre of BSE

The legacy of BSE remains a serious challenge to developing third country markets for Irish beef.

While Ireland has virtually eradicated the disease it continues to be a major concern for many non-EU countries.

These views were expressed by Department of Agriculture official Brendan Gleeson at the Bord Bia's Meat Markets Prospects seminar that was held in Dublin.

Mr Gleeson said the overall trend in the incidence of BSE was downward and that the age profile of the cases identified was upward.

But BSE continued to be a "legacy issue" which had to be dealt with when working on access to markets, he said.

Mr Gleeson told the seminar, which was attended by all the major meat processors as well as representatives from the farm organisations, that Ireland was cleared for beef exports to 38 non-EU countries, 28 for sheep and 13 for pig meat.

Growing third country markets would be essential if Ireland was to meet the Food Harvest 2020 targets for the meat sector, he said. Talks were ongoing with a number of countries. However, he said the process was "quasi-diplomatic" and slow.

China was an obvious target for Ireland, Mr Gleeson told the seminar. With a population of 1.3bn, a small share of the market would be "extremely lucrative", he said.

He expressed the opinion that China was "looking seriously" at the BSE risk in the EU and that once it decided to open its market it would do so for the EU as a whole.

"We want to be in a position to take advantage of that when it happens," Mr Gleeson said.

A Chinese delegation, including the deputy minister for agriculture, visited Ireland last May and appeared very happy with what they saw.

"They were hugely impressed with our grassland and all the cattle grazing out in the fields," he said.

The Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, intended to visit China this year to hold talks with his Chinese counterpart, Mr Gleeson told the seminar.

Russia and Japan were two other non-EU markets where Ireland was seeking greater access. The Department was awaiting the final report from a Russian visit here in the back end of last year.

In contrast, the process was in the early stages with Japan, with the Department hoping for an initial visit from Japanese officials this year. The country offered "huge opportunities" for offal exports, Mr Gleeson said.

Meanwhile, talks with the South American trade bloc Mercosur had stalled and were now unlikely to make much progress before the French presidential election, Mr Gleeson predicted.

Tensions between Argentina and Britain over the fishing rights around the Falklands/ Malvinas had also delayed matters.

He said Ireland had expressed the view that any trade agreement with the group -- which includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay -- had the potential to be hugely damaging for the Irish beef sector.

Indo Farming