The scene for this report, produced with Asia Matters, has been set; we know that Asian demand is on the rise, and that Ireland produces quality, safe and nutritious food. But, with regulatory, geographical and sustainability challenges in mind, how best can we marry the two? That is to say, what is Ireland’s potential to export food to Asia over the long-term?
The Agri-food sector is one of national importance and pride. It is our largest indigenous Irish industry, uses Irish raw materials and, because it is based throughout the country, adds to the vibrancy of our rural communities. Furthermore, it remains predominantly Irish-owned.
At the same time, Ireland is a small open economy with a unique exposure to the downside associated with Brexit. It makes sense, therefore, to expand the destination markets for our food exports. Fortunately, there is a clear opportunity to help satisfy increased Asian demand for safe, nutritious food.
Hard-won developments such as the Economic Partnership Agreement with Japan, the Chinese beef deal, and Cathay Pacific and Hainan’s direct flights between Ireland and China are all testaments to the work done in facilitating this opportunity for the Irish Agri-food sector. However, there are a number of pitfalls which we must avoid in order to stave off international competition and safeguard this valuable sector for generations to come:
The Agri-food sector has successfully innovated to produce more food on less land than ever before. This trend must continue. The Irish Government must facilitate continued support for Agri-food research and development so that we maximise the efficiency with which we use our natural resources.
In view of the ever-increasing demand for protein, Ireland must future-proof its Agri-food sector in order for it to remain viable for generations to come. Depleted fish stocks are already a cause of concern.
Asian supply chains are founded on trusting relationships, which require an investment of time and adherence to etiquette protocols. Without a profound understanding of our new trading counterparties, the Agri-food sector will not succeed in breaking into the Asian market.
Our ‘green’ image is a competitive advantage that is unique to the Irish Agri-food sector. The positive impact of Bord Bia’s Origin Green programme adds a credibility to this image which translates into value. At the same time, the sector is exposed to food scares and scandals such as melamine-laced milk in China, European horsemeat and numerous outbreaks of campylobacter. The Irish sector will not succeed if we do not continue to invest in consumer trust.
Having historically directed our efforts towards satisfying the British consumer, we must now develop a deeper understanding of the specific tastes and preferences of Asian consumers so as to better cater to their markets.
We are at our best when we work together. Collaborative approaches to innovation, sustainability, development of Asian alliances, brand protection and a joined up response to the changing demands of Asian consumers are critical to the future success of the sector. The private Agri-business sector must continue to engage with, and leverage from, Government bodies and vice versa.
In conclusion, the opportunity for the Irish Agri-food sector is too great to overlook. While the journey is not without its challenges and pitfalls, our rich agricultural history and current world class infrastructure puts us in superior standing to capitalise on this export market in a time of global disruption.
The Strategic Importance of Asia for Ireland's Agri-food Sector, produced with Asia Matters, Ireland’s only Asia Think Tank, outlines the current landscape and future opportunity for Irish Agri-food exporters to Asia.
With commentary from Michael Creed, T.D., Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine; Alan Dukes, Chairman of Asia Matters, and former Minister for Agriculture; David Meagher and Ian Proudfoot of KPMG; and Tara McCarthy from Bord Bia, the report details routes to market and provides sector-specific insight.
Asia Matters is Ireland’s only Asia think tank, a member driven knowledge and strategic connectivity hub for Asia business and partnership. We are committed to building dynamic business links and informed understanding between Asia, EU and Ireland to drive economic growth. Chairman Alan Dukes is former Irish Minister for Agriculture.