Dr Cunningham said:
"The decision by the EU Commission this morning to issue a proposal for a Date-Based Export Scheme is excellent news. It follows closely on our success in re-opening beef exports from Northern Ireland, and is a key step towards lifting the export ban throughout the UK.
"The proposal is particularly welcome news for our beef producers, who have suffered as a result of the ban over the past two years. It vindicates the positive, constructive and open approach we have taken on BSE in our relations with all the institutions of the European Union.
"But this is only a proposal. It will now be considered by the EU Standing Veterinary Committee. There will be a tough negotiation ahead. Some conditions in the proposal seem unnecessary and cause us difficulties. We shall work hard in the coming weeks for a scheme which fits the scientific advice, and permits real trade to resume as rapidly as possible.
"We have already met our obligations under the Florence Agreement. We have worked hard for eight months to develop this scheme with the Commission and to answer all question and concerns put to us. We now look to our partners to work constructively towards an agreement on this vitally important scheme as soon as possible."