The Irish and Libyan Governments have signed an agreement that lifts the ban on live cattle exports from Ireland to Libya. Full permanent diplomatic relations will also be established between the two countries. The IFA has described the development as a "major boost."

Libya had been the single biggest exporter of live cattle from Ireland. The live trade is important, because it helps to create competition here and underpin prices for farmers. Libya has been importing £70m worth, or up to 50,000 animals, a year from Ireland. However, the trade ended abruptly after the BSE crisis in 1996. Instead of Ireland, Libya was importing cattle from Australia. Strong efforts have been underway for the past four years to get the trade resumed. Ivan Yates spoke of a breakthrough before he left office. Tom Parlon also thought that he had secured a breakthrough in 1998. The same year a Libyan delegation clinched a deal in Dublin and despite farmers being given a resumption date in October 1998, the cattle never sailed to Tripoli.

Several weeks ago the Taoiseach met the Libyan leader General Gadaffi in Cairo. Today in Tripoli, the Minster for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, reached a firm agreement about re-opening the trade. It has been agreed that Ireland will now be officially listed as a source country for all tenders opened by Libya for the supply of live cattle. They may also consider taking beef imports. Ireland is now far less reliant on Tripoli than it was and it is thought that the resumption of trade with Libya will be gradual. Last year was a record one for live exports, with over 400,000 animals being shipped to countries other than Libya, and, this year, the live trade could be up by as much as a third.