My plans for Tuesday were turned upside down at 10am when I was informed that our scheduled cabinet meeting for Wednesday morning was now being brought forward to 2pm. For a Minister based in Macroom it’s a case of drop everything and hightail it to Dublin. I arrive just in time for the meeting. The change of plan does however allow me to attend the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit on Wednesday morning.
This week’s Minister’s Journal is slightly different to previous weeks in that on Wednesday I departed for a Trade Mission to Morocco. Admittedly, before becoming Minister I would have held a jaundiced view of the value of Trade missions such as this. However having travelled to the Far East in September and having had many discussions with those involved in the agri-food industry, there is little doubt that such Trade efforts are crucially important in terms of building relationships in new markets and strengthening bonds in existing ones. I don’t intend to go into detail on all the meetings that we managed to squeeze in to our three day trip, but you will see from the itinerary below that there certainly wasn’t much opportunity for sight seeing!!
Accompanied by some 10 Irish companies on the mission, along with senior officials from my Department and from State Agencies in the agri-food and fisheries sector, including Bord Bia and Sustainable Food Systems Ireland whom all I must commend for the professionalism and hard work in putting this trip together, the following is a flavour of our week:
Itinerary for Trade Mission
Wednesday 2nd November
PM Departure from Dublin Airport for Rabat
PM Arrival at Rabat Airport PM Briefing of Minister by Official Delegation
Thursday 3th November – Rabat/Casablanca
AM Business Networking Breakfast
AM Briefing by Ambassador
AM Meeting with National Office for Health Security of Food Products (ONSSA) AM Meeting with Agency for Agricultural Development of Morocco (ADA)
AM Bilateral with Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries PM Depart for Casablanca
PM Company Site Visit
PM Business Networking Reception
PM Debrief for Ministerial Delegation
Friday 4th November – Agadir
AM Depart for Agadir
AM Arrive Agadir
PM Dairy Company Site Visit
PM Meeting with Regional Representatives
PM Depart from Agadir Airport for Casablanca Airport
PM Arrival in Casablanca Airport
Agri-food exports from Ireland to Morocco last year continued their steady growth and have now almost doubled from around €8 million in 2013 to almost €14.5 million in 2015. 2016 is also looking to be a very positive year so far with almost €13 million in agri-food products exported by the end of July which is almost the entire amount for 2015. We can do better, however, and this trip was an opportunity to raise the profile of Ireland as a producer of top class food and livestock in this region, at both political and commercial level.
North Africa offers enormous potential for the Irish food and drink industry. Diversification of markets is a key goal of Food Wise 2025 and Africa represents a major potential growth area. This is even more important now as we face the uncertainty which the Brexit decision brings for exporters. As Minister I am determined to be proactive in the face of the threat posed to our agri-food sector by Brexit. Securing new markets and consolidating and expanding existing markets for our exports is a key part of this strategy.
It is worth pointing out that the Companies that travelled with us undertook a comprehensive programme of parallel events during the course of the political events that my team participated in. The trade mission continued over the weekend to Algeria with senior officials from the Department, State Agencies, including Bord Bia and SFSI, and Irish agri-food exporters. Events in Algeria included bilaterals with the Algerian State Agency ONIL who manage public procurement of dairy products making them one of the largest buyers of dairy produce in the world. The weekend also mincluded a series of commercial and promotional events including a major seminar, organised by Bord Bia, promoting Irish Dairy called “Food Ireland – Safe, Secure and Sustainable”.
Algeria is the second largest importer of powdered milk in the world, after China, and Ireland already provides 4.5% of their milk powder imports and 23% of cheese imports into Algeria. These meetings will focus on strengthening trade links and highlight the unique quality and reliability of Irish dairy produce to key players in the Algerian market.