David Owens, Meat Division, Bord Bia
A combination of severe falls in domestic production and increasing consumer purchasing power is leading to greater opportunities for Irish pigmeat exporters in Eastern Europe. The pig industry in Eastern Europe has been much harder hit by the pig price crisis of 2007 and the current economic difficulties. Production across the New Member States has fallen by as much as 600,000 tonnes or 15% since 2007. While these countries represent 46% of the total EU population they only account for 17% of EU pig production.
Given the fragmented nature and relatively poor infrastructure within the industry in these countries, production is very reactive to price and changes in consumption patterns which can fluctuate widely.
The industry in the region has been faced with considerable challenges including the structures in place from previous regimes, environment and farm size regulations and currently the difficulty in accessing funds for modernisation. Individual country self sufficiency levels vary, with deficits in supply evident in most countries.
With production in Eastern Europe falling to below 1990 levels, the requirement for imports has increased strongly, a demand which has been largely fulfilled by EU-15 suppliers. Increased demand from the manufacturing industries has created opportunities for cheaper cuts. These manufactures are increasingly turning to imported product due to its higher specification and its increasing availability. The largest market Poland, has increased import volumes 10 fold since 2003. The majority of this has been supplied by Germany given its proximity to the market and historical links, accounting for a third of all supplies.
Despite the current economic problems imports have continued to increase this year with volumes for the first six months of this year increased by 14 per cent to 580,000 tonnes. Irish exports to the region amounted to almost 5,000 tonnes in 2008.