CHINA looks set to open its market to boneless frozen beef from a shortlist of approved processing plants in Ireland, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed confirmed on April 16th, which could result in exports of up to 1.5 million tonnes.
In a statement issued earlier this week, the Macroom man confirmed that the Chinese authorities would ‘list a number of our beef establishments within the next few days.’ Three plants are expected to be approved – the first European beef processors to access the country of over 1.3 billion people – ABP plant in Clones in Co Monaghan, owned by beef tycoon Larry Goodman; Slaney Meats in Co Wexford and Donegal Meat Processors.
Creed described the move as ‘an excellent opportunity for the Irish beef sector, from farmers through to processors’ and ‘a powerful endorsement of Ireland’s high standards by the Chinese administration.’ Ireland’s access will cover frozen boneless beef, for which demand in China has risen by nine times in the last five years.
Opening and developing new markets was ‘a key part of our response to the uncertainties arising from Brexit,’ Creed added. The Minister noted that Irish agri-food exports to China had increased from some €200 million in 2010 to almost €1 billion in 2017, confirming that he would lead a trade mission to the Asian country next month to further build on the bilateral trade relationship.
China is Ireland’s second largest export destination in both the dairy and pigmeat sectors and comes third for overall food exports.
The Irish Minister thanked his department, other government officials, the food promotion body Bord Bia and the Irish Embassy in Beijing, as well as industry representatives and farmers. ‘It has taken a huge effort by Team Ireland,’ he said, adding that even a ‘small part of this market could deliver huge rewards.’
Visits to Ireland by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang had played a crucial role, while Creed also praised the Chinese Ambassador to Ireland Yue Xiaoyong.
The Fine Gael politician hoped that five other Irish beef plants – ABP in Nenagh, Kepak Clonee, Liffey Meats, Dawn Meats Charleville and Kildare Chilling – would be added to the Chinese-approved list following the first tranche. He expects exports to commence in the coming weeks.
The average person in China eats 4kg of beef a year, compared with 19kg in Ireland. Beef imports to China have risen from less than 100,000 tonnes in 2012 to around 600,000t in 2016, while demand for imported premium beef is expected to rise significantly.
Commenting this week, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) director Cormac Healy hailed the announcement as ‘an important breakthrough for the Irish beef sector,’ noting that it came after years of effort. MII planned to work with Agriculture House in Dublin and the Chinese authorities to secure approval for all Irish beef plants and to add to the list of products eligible.
Meanwhile, president of the Irish Farmers’ Association, Joe Healy, said it was very important that eligibility is secured for all Irish beef products and not just frozen boneless beef, while all export beef plants must be cleared. He called on the Irish Minister to take action on unacceptably low income levels on Irish farms and the challenges created by Brexit, noting that the UK takes up to 280,000t of Irish beef exports.
For his part, Edmond Graham, beef chairman of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, said that trade with China was ‘no use to us if it does not result in a price rise.’ The opening of the market ‘should allow for better prices because meat factories will have options,’ he said.
• Rose O’Donovan is the editor of the Brussels-based agricultural publication AGRA FACTS.