Live exports are a critical part of Ireland’s livestock industry. They play a significant role in stimulating price competition and providing an alternative market outlet for farmers. The Department facilitates this trade, recognising its critical importance to the agrifood sector, while also ensuring that live animal exports meet the highest welfare standards. In 2018 live exports of cattle increased by more than 30% to 246,000 compared to 2017. This growth trend has continued into 2019, with live exports totalling 58,000 up to early March, which is an increase of 35% on the same period in 2018.
My Department continues to prioritise efforts to gain access to new third country markets and deepen existing markets, particularly in the context of Brexit. I visited Turkey earlier this month to meet my Turkish counterpart, Dr. Bekir Pakdemirli, Minister for Agriculture and Forestry, when we discussed existing and future opportunities for technical co-operation, trade in agrifood products and live exports. I stressed the importance of the Turkish market for Irish livestock and the desire to re-establish trade as soon as possible. Dr. Pakdemirli indicated his intention to consider the reopening of the market in the second half of 2019. It was also agreed that officials from both countries would continue to explore opportunities for future co-operation and a visit by a Turkish technical team, including officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and the ESK - the Turkish meat and milk board - is planned for this summer.
Next week I will be meeting the Kazakh ambassador to discuss new health certification for trade of live animals to Kazakhstan. My Department is also engaging closely with officials to reach agreement on three proposed health and breeding certificates for the export of fattening, slaughter and breeding cattle to Egypt. Last November my Department reached agreement with Libya on a new veterinary health certificate for the export of breeding cattle and an amended veterinary certificate for the export of fattening and slaughter cattle. This increases the opportunity for exporters to export a wider range of cattle. A consignment of bulls destined for Libya set sail yesterday.
I have also extended an invitation to my Algerian counterpart to visit Ireland in 2019. This follows earlier contact with Algeria to try to reach agreement on revised and separate slaughter, fattening and breeding certificates.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
With regard to lairage capacity at Cherbourg, my officials are in ongoing communication with Irish exporters on the need for co-operative management between each other to ensure lairage capacity at the port is optimised. The development of additional lairage capacity is a commercial issue. The live export sector may wish to consider developing additional lairage in Cherbourg or engaging with owners of existing facilities there to explore the potential to provide additional capacity. Notwithstanding this, there has been significant engagement with the French authorities on this matter. In September 2018 officials from my Department visited Cherbourg to discuss the capacity issue with the French authorities and local lairage operators. Last month Bord Bia met local lairage operators, while departmental officials held a meeting with the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, and French embassy representatives. I also raised the issue last month with the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, while last week I discussed the matter with my French counterpart, Didier Guillaume, at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels. I should make it clear that the facilitation of the French ministry relates to the approval of private sector developments. Following this engagement, I am happy to report that in recent weeks the French authorities have approved an increase in the holding capacity of the Qualivia lairage in Cherbourg. It will provide additional daily capacity for 400 animals. Based on current ferry sailing schedules, it will provide increased capacity for some 1,200 animals per week.
The Deputy can rest assured that I will continue to advocate on behalf of exporters on this issue.