Written Answers. - Beef Exports.

Seán Ryan

Ceist:

9 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the initiatives he is taking in respect of strengthening the market for Irish beef in Egypt; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19015/03]

The Egyptian market was re-opened to imports of Irish beef in late 2001. This followed an intensive political, technical and diplomatic campaign, a key part of which was a mission by an Egyptian veterinary delegation to Ireland. This mission entailed a detailed assessment of the extent and effectiveness of Ireland's food safety controls in the area of beef production from farm right through to final export. However, trade has not resumed for commercial quantities of beef largely because of certain supply conditions which were subsequently imposed by the Egyp tian authorities and which made it more difficult to allow a full commercial exploitation of the market by Irish exporters. The effect of these conditions, which involve restrictions on certain cuts of meat, are even greater when account is taken of the attractive commercial outlets elsewhere, such as the UK and continental EU.

My immediate priority in relation to Egypt is to bring about a situation where the conditions of supply do not hinder or restrict trade and now that the market is open to Irish beef, intensive efforts are ongoing to bring this about. As part of this, a team of senior officials from my Department, along with representatives from An Bord Bia and the Irish Embassy in Egypt, recently held a major food safety seminar in Cairo last month to demonstrate the comprehensive nature of our food safety controls, particularly in the beef sector. This initiative was targeted at an audience of 100 key people in the areas of agriculture, food safety and food importation. The Irish delegation, as part of its overall approach, also held a range of meetings with senior Egyptian Government officials, including with the Egyptian Agriculture Minister, and Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Yousef Wali. There has been ongoing contact with the Egyptian authorities since the seminar and the indications are that the initiative was well received.

While it is my policy that every market should be open to Irish beef and that the conditions of supply should be as flexible as possible, the actual trade is a commercial matter for our beef exporters who must negotiate appropriate supply contracts. Decisions to sell into a particular market would obviously have regard to the returns available from other markets. We have also been keeping in close contact with the European Commission about developments on the Egyptian market, with particular emphasis on the appropriate level of export refund support necessary for the supply of this important outlet for Irish beef.