Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has said that he expects Ireland to become the first European country to export beef to the US, with Irish beef on sale in the US by September.

The minister is in the US on a short trip promoting Irish agri-trade and investment.

He had meetings at the US Department of Agriculture this morning in relation to US plans to allow Irish beef imports.

Inspectors from the US will be in Ireland next week to carry out audits of food safety controls at Irish meat plants.

Following these inspections Minister Coveney said today that he expected Irish beef to be on sale in the US by September or October.

The US has recently lifted BSE restrictions on Irish and European beef which had been in place since 1999.

Irish beef will be marketed in the "green beef" sector in America because it is grass-fed and free from hormones.

Much of the beef on general sale in the US has been exposed to growth hormones and has been at least part grain-fed.

This "green beef" sector accounts for about 8% of the US beef market and is worth around €700 million.

The organisation representing US cattle farmers said the prospect of Irish beef on sale in the US was "a great development".

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association said it embraced competition. 

Its Legislative Affairs Director Kent Bacus said that US cattle farmers saw competition as something that made them stronger, and as they did not receive any subsidies they "lived and died by the market".

The NCBA, which represents cattle rangers, meat producers and retailers, said it welcomed Irish beef into the US as long as it met all of the scientific standards that the US government had put in place.

Mr Bacus said he would like US cattle-farmers be granted the same access to Ireland and the EU as Irish and European farmers were now about to be granted to the US market.

He said the NCBA was happy with scientific restrictions but looked forward to the day when other "unnecessary" restrictions were lifted which would allow US beef to have wide access to the EU marketplace.

Mr Coveney said the opening up of the US market was exciting for Irish farmers as the price of beef in the US was now the same as the price of beef in the EU.

The beef herd in the US is the smallest it has been since 1951.

Minister Coveney is also meeting some of the US negotiators in the ongoing EU-US TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) talks.

He said he expects a deal to be done in the next 18 months to two years but that it was important to make sure Irish interests were represented.

He said he is trying to build a personal relationship with some of the negotiators.

He said Ireland had both an "offensive and defensive" interest in the TTIP deal, because we want access to markets outside of the EU, but we do not want a lot of US beef coming into the EU market.

He said the EU was still the most valuable market for Irish farmers and it needed to be protected.