Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney says China is likely to be a bigger market for Irish beef exports than the US.
He also expects beef producers here to be selling into China by the autumn following the lifting of the ban last month.
Ireland is now the only European beef exporter with access to the US and China, affording the industry a major first mover advantage on its rivals.
Mr Coveney was speaking at the culmination of Bord Bia’s Marketplace event in Dublin’s Convention Centre, which showcased Irish food and drink products to 530 international buyers.
The Minister told The Irish Times he believes Irish beef exports to China could be worth well over €100 million even in the short term.
He bases this calculation on the fact that Ireland is already exporting €40 million worth of cattle skins to China, and that he expects the value of beef exports to be worth “multiples” of this.
This would make China Ireland’s biggest non-European beef market and potentially more valuable than the US, which Mr Coveney hopes will take up to 20,000 tonnes of beef this year, worth €100 million.
The next stage in the process, Mr Coveney said, will involve Chinese officials coming to Ireland to inspect individual meat plants.
Delegation to China
This is expected to take place over the summer months before the Minister leads a delegation to China in late October or November to copper-fasten the re-opening of the market.
"Our beef industry is already very engaged on the ground in China in terms of preparing for the opening of the market," Mr Coveney said, noting Larry Goodman's ABP Group already had an office in Shanghai.
The Louth-based processor was the first European producer to secure a US contract since the lifting of the US ban.
Mr Coveney said the process of opening up these markets was about getting high-end, premium market share with a strong price rather than maximising the volumes of commodity product.
“Ultimately, I want to make sure the markets we’ve worked hard to get into actually have an uplift affect on price because that’s what farmers need to see.”
Buyers from 34 countries met 185 Irish food and drink companies at Bord Bia’s fifth Marketplace event this week through a series of some 5,000 pre-scheduled “speed-dating” style meetings. Significantly, 106 Asian buyers travelled to attend the event, compared to just 14 which attended the last Marketplace event in 2012.
Major business deals
Bord Bia's chief executive Aidan Cotter said the growth in Irish food and drink exports was almost completely driven by trade with markets outside the EU, with Asia and, specifically, China, the main driver.
He also noted the prospects for “major business deals” emerging from the event had been greatly enhanced by the euro’s recent depreciation, giving non-euro zone attendees greater buying power.
“Combined with the lifting of milk quotas and the opening of the Chinese and US beef markets, the opportunity presented by Marketplace could not have come at a better time,” he added.