The primary purpose of my visit last week to Australia and New Zealand was to represent Ireland at cultural events organised around the St Patrick’s Day festival. Nevertheless, I had a number of business engagements in both Australia and New Zealand and I secured meetings with the Agriculture Ministers of both countries.
In Australia I had the opportunity to meet with Irish food companies operating in Australia and to engage with key business figures in the agri-food sector. I also had a useful discussion with the Australian Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce concerning the trade links between our two countries and the current developments in international trade relations, particularly in the agri-food sector. It may not be generally known that agri-food and related exports to Australia were valued at €86 million in 2014. Exports of thoroughbred horses comprise the bulk of these exports although we also have a small trade in dairy products, beverages and, since the market was reopened in March of last year, in pigmeat. Over the medium term pigmeat exports from Ireland to Australia are targeted to reach around 10,000 tonnes per year.
My time in New Zealand was quite limited but I did have the opportunity to meet the New Zealand Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy. Although trade between Ireland and New Zealand is minuscule in both directions, we share a lot of common ground in terms of our production systems, notably in the dairy sector, and on climate change. We had a good discussion on both of these issues. We also explored the possibility of cooperation and exchanges between Teagasc and its equivalent in New Zealand, including the possibility of provision of services and expertise in the areas of agricultural outreach, extension and advice.
I also had a very useful and constructive meeting with Fonterra, the New Zealand farmer-owned cooperative that is the world’s leading dairy exporter. We discussed the growing demand worldwide for protein-based products and the role that countries such as Ireland and New Zealand can play in producing dairy products in an environmentally sustainable way, to address the issue of food security without damaging the environment. We concluded that there is an opportunity for quality producers such as Ireland and New Zealand to benefit from this additional demand in a spirit of collaboration and cooperation that contributes positively to both economies while helping to address global food security challenges in an environmentally and economically sustainable way.