Irish agri-food will meet the goal it has set itself of growing annual exports to €12bn by 2020, says Irish Exporters Association (IEA) chief executive Colin Lawlor.
He told attendees at the IEA president’s lunch yesterday in Dublin’s Convention Centre that Irish food and drink exports have grown 26% in the last three years, reaching a record €9.2bn in 2012.
The sector now accounts for about 10% of total exports. The challenge now is to add another €3bn in sales in the next seven years, while also retaining the green credentials which have kept the country at the lucrative end of global export markets.
“Given the low import content and the low repatriation of profits it has been estimated that the sector accounts for around one quarter of net foreign earnings,” said Mr Lawlor. “The sector is important and because it is growing fast we can confidently predict that its importance will also grow.
“The Government has set a target for this figure to grow to €12bn by 2020. To meet this ambitious target we must have continuous growth over the next seven years. IEA believes that the marketing environment has rarely been more acceptable to deliver on this an ambitious target.
“There is no doubt that the world needs to increase food production dramatically. Some say by 40% in the next 20 years and perhaps as much as 70% by the middle of the century to meet the needs of a growing population. This is the challenge — to meet this growing demand with limited land, energy and water resources while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“I believe Ireland’s agri-food export sector, led by companies such as Glanbia, is well positioned to exploit this opportunity for growth, and given our ‘green credentials’ we should be able to meet the demands for growth and do so in a sustainable way that meets all of the growing environmental concerns.’’
Mr Lawlor said agri-food is one of Ireland’s most important indigenous manufacturing sectors accounting for the employment of some 160,000 people. Included in this are food and drinks firms that export 85% of Irish food and seafood to more than 170 countries worldwide.
“The sector is indeed, as the saying goes, punching above its weight,” said the IEA chief executive. “Recent research shows that Ireland’s investment in agri-food produces a far larger return that investment in other sectors. The reason is that the sector sources 71% of its raw materials and services from Irish suppliers. This compares to just 44% for all manufacturing companies.”
Yesterday’s event also saw the IEA present an Export Gold Medal to departing Glanbia managing director John Moloney for his role building the Kilkenny-based food group into a global leader in nutritionals solutions and cheese group, exporting to more than 130 countries.
As such, the company is a prime example of why the IEA believes Ireland can realise its export growth goals. Mr Lawlor noted that the dairy ingredients side of the Glanbia business alone (Glanbia Ingredients Ireland Limited) is the third largest of all indigenous Irish exporters and the number one dairy processor in the country.
“The Irish Exporters Association is proud to honour John Moloney for his significant contribution to Glanbia and to Irish exports,” said Mr Lawlor.
“John, who has signalled his intention to step down from his position towards the end of this year, has demonstrated enormous vision and leadership in refocusing the Glanbia businesses around key growth markets. In John Moloney’s time at the head of Glanbia, profits have increased from €59.6m in 2001 to €212m in 2012. He is regarded as a visionary by his peers in the agri-food sector — a sector which is a key driver for economic and export-led growth. Glanbia exports to over 130 countries and employs 4,900 people in 17 countries.”
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