Ireland will begin shipping live cattle to Libya in the coming weeks as one of the country's largest cattle exporters has already commenced buying stock for the North African market.
While the first loads will be trucked down through France and out to Libya from Marseilles, other exporters are hoping to cut transport costs by chartering specialised walk-on, walk-off livestock boats. The Department of Agriculture is in the process of assessing at least one boat for this purpose at the moment.
But agents remain divided over the Department's decision to suggest a 24-month upper age limit on all stock in the sanitary certificate that was drafted for the Libyan authorities.
This is despite the fact that the equivalent document for French cattle exporters carries no stipulations regarding an age limit for qualifying stock.
As a result, there will be limited scope for grass-fed, dairy-cross steers that would traditionally have been fattened up to 30 months of age.
However, one shipper, who wished to remain un-named said that the Libyan market had moved on from the last time Ireland exported there in the mid 1990s. He said that they've been taking in millions of cattle annually from South America and Australia, all under 24 months of age.
France, Spain and Italy are already shipping into the Libyan market and provide the greatest competition, according to Bord Bia's Joe Burke. "Irish R3's are making about 25-30c/kg deadweight more than in either Spain or France. When the extra 20-30c/kg liveweight for getting Irish cattle across to France is also factored in, it makes Irish cattle look less competitive at the moment," said Mr Burke.
Irish exports to Libya fluctuated in the 1990s from zero to a high of 81,000hd in 1995, the penultimate year before the trade ceased.
The trade was massively subsidised with as much as 60pc of the average price of IR£700-800 per animal coming from export refunds, according to Joe Burke.
Irish cattle have risen sharply in value since then but Libya's buying power has also improved on the back of stronger oil revenues. However, with national elections only completed in the last number of weeks following the ousting of the Gaddafi regime, securing stable payment structures remains the biggest challenge for exporters.
Stock currently being sourced for the Libyan market range in weights from 300-450kg, and grades of R3 or lower.
Prices are grade dependent, but start from €1.50/kg liveweight up.