22 October 1999

Beef exports dilemma

PROSPECTS for the resumption of beef exports from Northern Ireland look bleak unless some flexibility is introduced into the Date Based Export Scheme rules.

Cecil Mathers, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association said that despite the ban on exports being lifted first in Northern Ireland, no beef from the province was currently being exported to mainland Europe.

"The conditions for the Date Based Export Scheme are totally prohibitive. All our plants are of such a capacity that they need 1000 cattle a week to operate on a viable basis," he said.

"The agreement was negotiated by civil servants who did not understand the commercial realities of the business. It needs to be renegotiated."

Taking risks?

Mr Mathers warned it was highly unlikely that anyone would take the risk of getting back into exports until there was some easing of the rules to allow slaughterhouses to either dedicate a line or dedicate the entire plant for one day a week.

He added that companies experience with the Certified Herd Scheme – the forerunner to the DBES – had left them hesitant.

He said: "The stupidity of the whole thing here is that we operate the export approved (XAP) scheme which involves bringing other member state beef in and then re-exporting it to Europe as meat."

Companies have made use of the scheme to keep their export markets by sourcing animals from the Republic of Ireland.

New Year resumption

Despite the problems, Mr Mathers said he was hopeful that exports would resume in the New Year claiming that customers who had previously bought beef were still keen to do business.

"Its not going to happen immediately and when it does happen it is going to be small," he admitted.

But it was important that the province got back to a situation where it had more than one market because it was much more dependent on exporting than the rest of the UK.

"Over 75% of the beef produced has to move out of Northern Ireland," he said.