The US has taken an important step towards opening access for European mutton and lamb lifting a decades' long ban on sheep meat exports from the EU.
The ban was first introduced as a response to the BSE crisis in the 1990s.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue said the announcement represented "the removal of a major impediment" to Irish access to the US market.
"This development is very significant and paves the way for full market access for Irish sheep meat," he said.
"My Department, in collaboration with the Embassy of Ireland in Washington, has worked hard over several years to ensure that the ban was lifted.
"This is an important recognition of the hard work our sheep farmers carry out in producing a top-quality product.
"In preparation for this key step, and to ensure Ireland was well-positioned to take advantage of this opportunity in a timely manner, a number of important actions have been taken by my Department, in cooperation with Bord Bia and industry, over several years.”
The US has a relatively small sheep sector, producing less sheep meat domestically than the 75,000 tonnes Ireland exports each year.
The latest figures put the value at €358m to the Irish agri-food industry - up 12% compared to the year before, and largely boosted due to increased prices.
However, despite low domestic production, US consumer demand has increased significantly over the last decade, growing by between two and three per cent annually.
Last year, American mutton and lamb consumption reached 194,000 tonnes - more than three times the amount produced in the States.
Over the last decade, it has meant annual imports have increased from 75,000 tonnes in 2010 to an estimated 134,000 tonnes in 2020, with demand expected to hold steady through to 2025.
Currently, Australia, the largest supplier to the global market, accounts for around 76% of this, followed by New Zealand which supplies a further 23%.
Minister of State for new market development, Martin Heydon explained work had already begun to ensure Irish market access at the earliest opportunity.
“Having recently met with a delegation from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) this market access for sheepmeat is welcome news for our sheep sector," he said.