Ireland’s agri-food and equine sectors are set for a major boost in the Gulf States of Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Agriculture, Food and Marine Minister Simon Coveney has arrived in the region with a 60-strong trade mission with the region being seen as having the potential to become a new hub of growth for agri-food exports.
A number of significant trade deals and new business partnerships are expected to be signed and announced during what is the biggest ever Irish trade mission to the Gulf.
The minister said he was as excited about it as he was over last year’s trade mission to China which was a phenomenal success.
"I think we can do the same in the Gulf states. I would be very surprised if it was not a real success from a commercial point of view," Mr Coveney said.
Irish food exports to the Gulf amounted to almost €200 million in 2012 and Bord Bia estimates there is potential to double that figure by 2020. The Gulf states being visited this week have a population of 47 million people, but they have food security concerns.
The minister said that is because they do not have the land mass and the soil fertility and the climate to grow enough food.
But they are very wealthy and cash rich countries with fantastic natural resources in terms of oil and gas.
"What we are trying to do is to partner a country (Ireland) that is going to be producing a lot more food over the next five to ten years with countries that need to import a lot more food in the same period.
"We currently produce enough food for about 36 million people and by 2020 I hope we will be producing enough food for 50 million. We need to find new markets. I think the Gulf states are a really exciting example of markets that will pay for premium quality safe food," he said.
Mr Coveney said there are strong and obvious synergies between the food security policy objectives of the region where almost 90% of the food consumed is imported and Ireland’s Food Harvest plan for the expansion and development of its agri-food sector. "Ireland’s strong sustainability credentials in agri-food and the sector’s significant potential for expansion make it an ideal partner for Gulf countries."
The minister said he was confident the mission would help Irish companies to develop the kind of positive business relationships across the Gulf states that would ultimately provide opportunities for trade and commercial development and, ultimately, employment in Ireland.
Key state agencies such as Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland, Horse Racing Ireland and its subsidiary, Irish Thoroughbred Marketing, are represented on the trade mission.