Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Food bosses target €500m of exports to Gulf States by 2020

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Irish food bosses headed into the desert at the weekend on a mission to double food exports to the Gulf States within seven years.

Led by the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, 34 food and drink firms are on a week-long whistle-stop tour of Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Saudi Arabia.

They range from multi-billion euro businesses such as ABP, Dawn and Kepak to farming innovators such as crisp manufacturer Tom Keogh.

Mr Keogh, who is already exporting potatoes and crisps to Abu Dhabi, joined 60 other delegates hoping to share in the €500m of food that Ireland aims to export to the Middle East by 2020.

"The opportunities here are just extraordinary," said Minister Coveney, just one day into the trip. "The target is €500m but I think we can go way beyond that. We export 90pc of what we produce and these countries import up to 90pc of what they eat, so we're an obvious match."

The oil-rich Gulf States have some of the highest incomes per capita in the world and young and rapidly growing populations.

However, with farmland limited to as little as 1.25pc of the total land area, the region is almost totally dependent on imports to meet its escalating food requirements.

Gulf sovereign funds have already poured billions into leasing and buying over 1m acres of land around the world to secure future food supplies for the region.

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Irish meat companies are well represented on the trip, following the decision by Gulf States to finally lift bans on imports of Irish beef and sheep meat that have been in place since the outbreak of the BSE crisis in the mid-1990s.

Recent bans on both US and Brazilian beef imports into the region have opened up huge opportunities for other beef exporting countries, such as Australia, which has seen a 170pc increase in sales volumes into the United Arab Emirates (UAE) so far this year.


Irish dairy companies are also investing heavily in the region, with the Irish Dairy Board (IBD) set to unveil a €12m-plus investment in a soft cheese manufacturing facility in Riyadh later this week.

The plant will use Irish milk powder and is seen by IBD CEO Kevin Lane as a significant development for the company. Saudi Arabia is already the second largest market for Irish infant milk formula after Britain.

Bord Bia also announced yesterday that it is to open its first Middle Eastern office in Dubai during the coming months.

Minister Coveney kicked off the first leg of his trade mission in Qatar, where he met the Qatari minister for the environment who has a key role in the area of market access for beef and sheep meat.

The day also had a strong focus on the thoroughbred industry, with Qatari Sheikhs and businessmen recently investing millions in Irish stud farms.

However, the Irish representatives have been warned to adopt their typical sales patter to local norms.

Guidelines issued by the State's food promotion agency, Bord Bia, highlight that "enquiring directly after the wife or other female family members of a Qatari businessman can be a faux pas and should be avoided."

Indeed, such is the status of women in neighbouring Saudi that representatives are urged never to inquire about a Saudi's wife, "regardless of how well you know him."

Other hints for the delegates include only giving and receiving with the right hand and the importance of keeping ones feet firmly planted on the ground.

"Any sign of showing the soles of the feet is seen as very offensive," Bord Bia advised.

Irish Independent