Price volatility is a significant issue for the pig sector and indeed has been for the last 18 months, highlighting the cyclical nature of prices in the sector.
Continuing Brexit uncertainty lends emphasis and urgency to the expansion of international market access, and I have made market diversification a priority. In 2017 I visited Mexico, the fourth largest importer of chilled and frozen pork in the world, to establish market access. Following visits from Mexican authorities, six export plants were recently audited as part of the first stage of gaining access to that market for Irish exporters.
There has also been a substantial expansion in Ireland’s pig meat exports to Asia, with exports to China, Japan and South Korea topping €100m last year. In May 2018, I led a trade mission to China, which included events, in association with Bord Bia, to promote Irish pork and develop export opportunities. I also travelled to Japan and South Korea in 2017 to expand opportunities for Irish exporters in these markets.
Exports to Japan increased by 36% to €30m last year and exports to South Korea increased by 29% to reach €11m. Additionally, I led the first ever Irish agri-food trade mission to Malaysia last November, where a veterinary health certificate for pigmeat was agreed, a vital milestone in the process of gaining market access. I will continue to work closely with the sector and, by focusing on insight-led growth strategies, capitalise upon opportunities for Irish pig meat exporters on international markets.
As regards support for primary producers, TAMS II measures (under the 2014-2020 RDP plan) provide grants for capital investment in physical assets to assist pig producers to develop their businesses. In 2016, I established a Pig Implementation Strategy Group to oversee implementation of the report of the Pig Industry Stakeholder Group. This group plays a vital facilitating role in achieving the objectives for the industry as laid out in Food Wise 2025.
The possibility of a disorderly Brexit poses a threat to the entire agri-food sector, including the pigmeat sector. I have stressed in discussions with Commissioner Hogan that there will be a need to deploy a range of measures to mitigate the potential impacts on the sector, including via traditional market supports and exceptional aid under the CAP's Single Common Market Organisation regulation, and increased flexibility under State Aid regulations. Commissioner Hogan has reiterated the EU’s willingness to respond and support Ireland, and we will remain in contact on these issues as a clearer picture emerges.