A decision by South African Minister for Agriculture and land Affairs, Lulama Xingwana, to lift the ban on the importation of Irish beef was welcomed this week. The ban has been in place since 2001 and the market will now reopen under conditions recommended by South African experts who visited Ireland last April. Welcoming the decision, Agriculture Minister Mary Coughlan noted that the Department of Agriculture and the Irish Embassy in Pretoria have been working very closely on this issue for a number of years. During November 2006 the Minister and her experts had a number of high-level meetings with South African Cabinet members and their officials. The Minister noted that senior veterinary officials from both sides have discussed detailed proposals for exchanges of skills and personnel to share best practice and experience in facing common challenges in the food industry. Both Governments see the agri-food sector as an important area with significant potential for trade growth and the creation of quality employment. Senior experts will meet shortly to discuss an action plan on skills development.