Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Questions (57)

Tony McLoughlin


57. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the opportunities for sheepmeat in the Japanese market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28268/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

This question relates to the opportunities for sheepmeat. There has been some discussion about the opening of the Japanese market for sheepmeat. I ask the Minister to make a statement on the matter.

My officials continue to work towards opening and enhancing access to as many markets as possible. During my recent successful trade mission to Japan, I had the pleasure of announcing the agreement in principle on access to the Japanese market for Irish sheepmeat. This agreement was the culmination of ongoing collaboration between my Department, assisted by our embassy in Tokyo and the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Details of the agreement are expected to be finalised shortly by an exchange of correspondence between my Department and the relevant Japanese officials.

Japan is one of the top five markets identified for the meat sector by Bord Bia as part of the market prioritisation exercise carried out under my seven-point action plan on market access and exports. The country offers an important opportunity for sheepmeat export. According to a Bord Bia study, Japan imported 24,565 tonnes of sheepmeat at a value of more than €170 million last year. The Japanese sheepmeat import market has grown approximately 82% in value in the past five years alone.

The role of my Department is to open up market access and remove barriers to trade. The industry must then take advantage of these opportunities. I am hopeful that Irish sheepmeat exports will achieve the same success that our dairy, pigmeat and beef sectors have enjoyed in Japan.

I know the Minister's recent visit to Japan was successful. The Japanese market offers enormous potential. The Minister mentioned that Japan imported sheepmeat valued at more than €170 million each year. Have all the barriers been removed? Were obstacles removed during the Minister's recent visit to allow the start of an export business to Japan?

As I said, it remains for the i's to be dotted and the t's crossed. We are on the cusp of gaining access to the Japanese market and we have agreement in principle. It is interesting, in the context of that market, that the average consumption of sheepmeat in Ireland is approximately 3 kg per capita whereas in Japan it is in the region of 150 g. Japan represents a growing market opportunity and the trade statistics show that sheepmeat is a meat of preference that has grown significantly in recent years. There are, therefore, significant opportunities. We have gained a foothold in Japan for pork, dairy and, more recently, beef exports and the removal of the 30-month age restriction will mean a higher volume of exports going in that direction. Sheepmeat is a new venture in the Japanese market but there is potential. At the moment, for obvious geographical reasons, Japan is predominantly supplied by the sheep sectors of Australia and New Zealand but there are opportunities for us, particularly in conjunction with other efforts we are making in broader meat protein areas in that market.

As the Minister can appreciate, the sheep sector is vital in my constituency. There is a large sheep population in the constituency and surrounding counties in the north west. It is vital that we secure access to the Japanese market and other markets. Having more markets open for sheepmeat would be beneficial to the farming community.

By way of evidence of the significance of the market, between 2013 and 2018, the value of imports in the Japanese sheepmeat market has jumped by over 80% from €93 million to €170 million. During the same period, the quantity of imported sheepmeat has grown by only 33%. It is a premium product in Japan and we have opportunities in that regard. I appreciate that it is a matter of having as many markets as possible and the industry then availing of the market that delivers the highest price to the sector.

Japan is a highly sophisticated and developed market where food is a premium product and it is a market we could usefully exploit in the years ahead.

Question No. 58 replied to with Written Answers.