The pursuit and development of new markets for Irish agrifood exports is an ongoing and central component of the strategic development of the agrifood sector, as evidenced by its placement right at the centre of Food Wise 2025, and is of particular relevance given the need to diversify our markets and to reduce our exposure to traditional destinations such as the UK.
My Department continues to open new markets and deepen trade with existing markets for Irish agrifood exporters. The highlight of 2018 in this respect was the decision of the Chinese authorities to open their market to Irish beef imports. Other notable achievements during 2018 were agreements with Qatar and Kuwait which allowed for the importation of Irish beef, sheepmeat and poultry to their markets, and most recently in April 2019 we saw the opening of the Ukrainian market for Irish beef and pork.
Trade Missions play an important role in securing market access, and in deepening trade with existing markets. March 2019 has already seen the first trade mission of the year, to Turkey, primarily focusing on Live Trade. The remainder of 2019 will see missions to China next week, Japan and South Korea in June, and Algeria and Egypt in November. These destinations are in keeping with Bord Bia's recent market prioritisation exercise, which has identified the markets that provide the greatest potential for an increase in Irish agrifood exports.
Overall, agrifood exports to countries outside the EU have increased from around €2.7 billion to €3.6 billion in the period 2014 to 2018. This represents very rapid growth of 36% in that four-year timeframe. It remains the case, nonetheless, that exports to the UK comprise a very significant proportion of Irish agrifood exports.
In that context, the avoidance of a hard Brexit must remain a critically important policy objective.