China-Ireland beef talks ‘very positive’, says Michael Creed

Chinese minister vows to speed up completion of Irish beef production audit report

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed  said talks with a top Chinese quarantine inspection minister were very “encouraging”. Photograph: Paul McErlane/Bloomberg News

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said talks with a top Chinese quarantine inspection minister were very “encouraging”. Photograph: Paul McErlane/Bloomberg News

 

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has held “very positive” talks in Beijing with a top Chinese quarantine inspection minister on getting access for Irish beef to the lucrative China market.

Mr Creed met Zhi Shuping, the senior minister with responsibility for the Quarantine Inspection Service in China (AQSIQ), during the China leg of a major trade mission to Asia.

“It was a very encouraging engagement with minister Zhi. We are conscious that we are outside knocking at the door, and they are the guardians of the citizens here in respect of food safety. We wouldn’t be knocking at the door if we didn’t think we meet all the criteria,”he told The Irish Times.

Importance

China’s importance to Irish agriculture has grown strongly, with food exports to China growing by 16 per cent last year. China is now Ireland’s third largest food and drink market worldwide, after Britain and the United States, the second largest dairy market after Britain and our second biggest pig meat market after the UK, accounting for almost 30 per cent of total exports.

China banned EU beef imports over mad cow disease, or BSE, 16 years ago, but last year it was announced that the ban was being lifted for Irish beef.

However, the process appeared to run into difficulty after Ireland signed up to a motion at the United Nations Human Rights Council, tabled by the US, highlighting China’s “ongoing problematic human rights record”, with particular focus on the forced return of suspected dissidents from overseas.

Mr Creed said a general audit of Irish beef production had taken place in January.

“We would be quite confident that when they report, that they will give us the green light to move to the next phase which involves protocols and veterinary certification. This is the significant hurdle we have to clear, once we clear this it’s reasonable plain sailing after that,” he said, speaking at a trade reception in the Irish Embassy in Beijing, hosted by Irish Ambassador to China Paul Kavanagh.

Pledge

The Chinese minister had pledged to urge AQSIQ officials to accelerate the completion of a report on a technical inspection carried out in January of this year.

Aidan Cotter, chief executive of Bord Bia, who is travelling with the trade mission, welcomed the progress made by Mr Creed.

“Bord Bia’s consumer insight team visited China recently to assess the consumer sentiment in relation to Irish beef and one of the big themes to emerge was the extent to which Chinese consumers are prepared to pay a premium for quality beef. It all points to a big opportunity for Irish beef,” said Mr Cotter.

There has been a two and a half fold increase in Ireland’s agrifood exports to China from €240 million in 2012 to €610 million in 2015.

During the day, Mr Creed visited the Sanyuan dairy factory, which is part of the large state-owned Sanyuan group and Dairygold and Teagasc signed a memo of understanding with Sanyuan.

Diversify

Later at the embassy, where the Minister opened his speech with a quotation from China’s founding father, chairman Mao Zedong, the US animal nutrition company Alltech signed a memorandum with the financial services arm of the white goods giant Haier to explore co-operation on developing the agriculture section in China.

“Haier is one of the world’s largest suppliers of white goods, and we bought GE Appliances this year, but we want to diversify, and we see a lot of opportunities in the agriculture area. We see opportunities to integrate solutions for the Chinese agriculture industry,” said Jason Zhou, chief executive of Haier Financial Services.

Mark Lyons, global vice president and head of Greater China at Alltech, said the two companies were looking at the whole ecosystem of the industry.

“We can help it to connect from one end to another. We will initially look at the beef sector in five provinces, also in the egg industry.

All of these industries have some requirements on consolidation or efficiency improvements. Alltech can help with technology on the efficiency side,” said Mr Lyons.

The trade mission is in two parts, with Minister of State at the Department Andrew Doyle travelling to Vietnam and Korea. About 30 Irish agrifood and fisheries companies are taking part on the mission.