Irish live sheep exports almost doubled to approach 70,000 head in 2013, and the new market of Libya is proving key. This is according to Declan Fennell, meat division of Bord Bia. 

Seventy per cent of this trade was destined for the EU, he outlined in its latest Food Alert, with Germany (16,137 head), Italy (11,108 head) and France (10,964) being the core markets. In a new development in 2013, Ireland exported 21,400 live sheep to the North African market of Libya, which is proving a key for this market, he said. 

In the context of EU live sheep exports, a total of 1.2 million head were exported in the first eight months of 2013. This live trade was dominated by Romania (781,000 head), Spain (295,000 head) and France (31,000 head), with Ireland emerging as the fourth largest EU exporter, he added.

“The vast proportion of live trade to these non-EU markets consisted of adult sheep, mainly culled ewes. It is understood that the vast majority of live exports are for immediate slaughter, hence the heightened demand around the Muslim festivals such as Ramadan.”

The Bord Bia expert noted that in the past two years, there has been a major shift in trade, with EU live exports to Turkey almost ceasing.

“Instead, it is now Libya which is driving EU exports. Interestingly, demand has surged in Libya since the fall of the Gaddafi regime in 2011. Back in 2009, almost 29,000 live sheep were exported into Libya; this compares to a staggering 845,000 head in the period January to August 2013.”

With a clear shortage in domestic production relative to market demand, Libya has emerged as an important market for the EU, he said.

“However, one word of caution should be noted on a growing instability and turmoil in this market. With a reduction in oil exports, the economy is undergoing severe pressure to curb current spending and public sector employment. It remains to be seen how it will impact on trade.”

Libya was a valuable market for Irish live cattle exports in the past, taking 81,420 cattle valued at more than €70m in 1995. However, in 1996 Libya banned beef imports from the EU because of the BSE outbreak. Its ban was lifted last year and trade with Ireland once again commence after a 17-year gap.