South Korea has become the latest export market for Irish beef with the announcement last week that seven Irish factories – three from ABP, two from Dawn, and one each from Kepak and Liffey Meats have been approved to begin exports. As is the case with China, approval is only for beef from cattle under 30 months but does include all beef cuts including bone-in plus offal which isn’t the case with China where approval is restricted to frozen boneless beef.

Market scope and suppliers

South Korea is the leading country in Asia for beef consumption, currently at 17kg per person annually and the market is predicted to increase by 1% year on year over the next four years. A further attraction as a potential export market comes from the fact that South Korea imports two thirds of the beef that it consumes. As Figure 1 shows, beef imports have more than doubled over the past fifteen years with Australia and the US having over 90% of this business between them. While volumes from the US were low originally, they have progressively increased while Australia has remained static. Canada on 20,000 tonnes and New Zealand on 10,000 tonnes in 2023 are the significant other suppliers.

South Korea is currently the fourth largest beef importing country in the world after China, USA and Japan, and what will be of further interest to Irish exporters, is that it isn’t open to imports from South American countries.


South Korea has a general 40% tariff on beef imports but this is reduced significantly for countries that have a trade agreement in place. Both the US and Australia have deals that are working towards a zero tariff on beef imports with the US having a tariff at just over 5% of value in 2024 while Australia are on just over 10%. For EU countries including Ireland the current tariff is 7.5% so Irish exporters won’t be at a significant disadvantage on tariffs compared with the main suppliers.

Potential for Irish beef exports

Over the past decade, the Irish Government has succeeded in gaining access for Irish beef exports to all the major beef importing markets in the world outside Europe. Japan was the first of these back in 2013 followed by the US in 2015 and China in 2018 which has been twice interrupted because of BSE cases. With over 90% of Irish beef exports continuing to be sold in the UK and EU markets, it is fair to conclude that securing access to these markets hasn’t moved the dial in relation to Irish trade patterns, so can South Korea be different?

It is a growing market that is dependent on beef imports from a restricted number of countries for supply so it should have considerable potential for Irish beef exports. However, as Table 1 shows, Irish beef export volume to the new markets opened since 2013 is actually lower in the first quarter of 2024 than they were in 2020. China has been disrupted by BSE suspensions and the US market has attracted large volumes from Brazil which used up all the tariff free quota that Ireland had used for US exports. The Japanese market appears to share many similarities with the South Korean market yet Irish beef exports remain very low.

The factories

Whatever about market trends in other Asian countries, Dawn Meats are certainly positive about the potential in South Korea.

On the same day as the opening was announced, with their own story about ambitions for the Korean market, they said that they have been working on the South Korean market since 2018 and now have in place what they describe as “an initial multi-million contract for monthly shipments with a leading South Korean company,” starting later this month. They are also doing business in Japan and the Philippines and CEO Niall Browne told an Irish Farmers Journal event last week that they were also the biggest EU exporter of beef to China before the first BSE suspension in 2020.

While the other companies haven’t made any specific announcements, they have been active in several Government and EU trade missions to the region over recent years.

While none of ABP, Kepak or Liffey have gone public about business they have lined up in South Korea, we can be sure they will be actively engaged with the market as well.

It is also likely that further approvals for Irish factories will follow as the Government’s announcement refers to seven plants being approved initially.

We might expect that factories outside the main groups too will have an interest in this market in the same way that most Irish beef factories secured approval for exports to China.

Role for Irish Grass Fed Beef

In his interview with Irish Farmers Journal editor Jack Kennedy last week, Niall Browne appeared somewhat lukewarm about Irish grass fed PGI, describing it as likely to be a “slow burn” and he spoke about how it was more onerous than PGIs he has experience working with in Dawn factories in Scotland, Wales and the South West of England.

A completely new market with relatively low volumes, at least in the beginning, would seem like an ideal place to promote the PGI for Irish grass fed beef.

However, as the Irish Farmers Journal has previously pointed out, factory buy in to the brand is critical for success.

Both ABP and Kepak have factories in Britain with access to these other PGIs that have been in place for several years and it will be interesting to see their approach to using the Irish grass fed PGI.

From an Irish farmers’ perspective, it would be preferable that the factory approach to using the PGI was to “fast track” it as opposed to being “lukewarm”.


With the opening of South Korea, the Government has now delivered access to the top four beef importing countries, completing a process that began with Japan in 2013. It is fair to say that despite their being open for business, they have so far made negligible impact on Irish beef trade patterns. However, even if business isn’t buoyant, having market access means that it is always a potential customerand therefore provides an option. It is also encouraging that Dawn are out of the blocks immediately with an announcement on securing a contract and hopefully the other factories will follow with similar news in the near future.

For farmers, the news that more markets for beef are available is to be welcomed. However, it comes with restrictions in the form of a thirty-month age limit, that will add to the existing pressure to reduce the age of slaughter. Only time will reveal if this new market becomes significant and ultimately its worth to Irish farmers will be judged by the farm gate price.

  • South Korea opens for Irish beef exports.
  • Dawn Meats have a customer in place.
  • Seven factories approved.
  • South Korea is fourth largest beef importer.
  • Biggest per capita beef consumer in Asia.
  • UK and EU will remain main market.