The primary responsibility for ensuring that Irish beef and lamb command premium prices on international markets and within the EU rests with the processing industry, with the support of An Bord Bia. There are no technical restrictions on the export of beef and lamb within the EU. A substantial quantity of both products are exported annually to EU member states. In the past two years exports of beef to the UK recorded huge growth. I expect that 250,000 tonnes of beef will be exported to the UK again this year. The markets on continental Europe, notably France, the Netherlands, Italy and Sweden continue to strengthen. The industry will continue its focus on achieving a greater level of penetration of EU markets generally while targeting higher value segments of these markets in particular.
As regards third country markets for beef, Russia remains the main export market, having taken 83,000 tonnes last year. I expect that this will continue though other markets open to Irish beef include Egypt, Cyprus, Malta, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Where there are restrictions due to BSE on beef exports to other markets, including the Gulf states, South Africa and Indonesia, every effort has been made, and will continue to be made at political, diplomatic and technical level to have them removed. There remains some technical restrictions preventing the full resumption of the commercial trade with Egypt and I am working intensively to have these amended.
My role in relation to beef and lamb prices generally is to set the policy parameters, to negotiate the appropriate support framework at EU level and to ensure unrestricted access to all markets. I pressed hard to secure the recent decision at EU level to adopt a framework Regulation allowing for the introduction of mechanical classification. My Department has set a process in motion which will lead to machine classification at processing plants next year. This development will allow factories to focus more intensely on rewarding quality product and to expand the market opportunities internationally for Irish beef.
Commercial considerations also arise in respect of all markets. Irish beef faces stiff competition from South America, in particular, to retain and expand market opportunities. The industry needs to intensify its focus on both quality and price in order to improve its international competitiveness and sharpen its appeal to consumers.