Irish and Egyptian authorities have reached an agreement to reopen the market in the North African country to Irish beef for the first time in more than 16 years.

Under the terms of the deal, five Irish plants are approved to begin beef exports to Egypt, once necessary arrangements are in place.

Before Egypt banned Irish beef exports in November 2000 over BSE fears, the country had been one of the largest markets for the product.

Egypt is now the largest consumer market in the Middle East and North Africa with around 95m consumers.

It is the third biggest destination for Irish agri-food exports to Africa, with exports of €45m in 2015.

These exports were almost exclusively dairy (€30.5m) and seafood (€11m).

This latest deal comes following the opening of the Egyptian market to live Irish cattle in February 2016.

It also includes approval for beef offal and a limited approval for particular types of sheep-meat products.

Commenting on the agreement, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said it is "another example of achieving the market access goals in the Food Wise 2025 strategy". 

He added: "The search for new third country markets is a top priority for my Department and has taken on an added urgency in the context of the challenges posed by the upcoming UK exit from the EU."

The ICMSA welcomed the deal, but its Livestock Committee Chairman Michael Guinan said: "It cannot be stressed often enough that announcing new export opportunities is practically pointless unless primary beef producers can see a resultant improvement in their cattle prices."