Chinese palates tend to favour pork and mutton when it comes to choosing which meat to eat; but tastes are changing as the country gets richer, and the demand for beef in China is expected to rise by a million tonnes over the next five years.
Making sure Ireland gets a healthy slice of that market was very much on the mind of Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney last week as he led a trade mission of 37 Irish companies to China.
China has banned beef from the European Union since 2000 following the BSE crisis and Ireland has been leading the push to have the 14-year ban lifted.
While beef is unlikely to become a staple, there are tremendous opportunities in niche areas such as supplying restaurant chains, according to market analysts. Gaining access for Irish beef in China was a “key objective” and Coveney said he made substantial progress in bringing that about during his five-day mission.
"Ireland stands on the cusp of the biggest positive development for Irish agriculture in over 30 years," he said during the visit, which took in Beijing, Shanghai, Qingdao and Hangzhou.
In tandem with the growth of the economy, China is growing rapidly in importance as a market for Irish farmers and food companies. In the first six months of this year alone, Ireland exported more than €405 million in dairy, meats, beverages, seafood, and hides and skins to China – up from €300 million in the same period last year.
‘Major step forward’
These efforts made a “major step forward” during bilateral meetings with the Chinese minister for agriculture
, who as head of the general administration of quality supervision, inspection and quarantine is the Chinese minister responsible for market access.
Coveney’s Chinese counterpart agreed to send a formal inspection team to Ireland in December.
“This follows intensive technical engagement between my department and the relevant Chinese authorities over the past two years,” he said.
Also crucially important was the news in April that Ireland achieved a 100 per cent compliance with Chinese requirements during an audit of Irish dairy plants, something rival nations failed to achieve. Coveney, along with Bord Bia chief Aidan Cotter, signed a co-operation pact between Bord Bia and the China Dairy Industry Association during a trade mission to the country, as well as an agreement with his Chinese counterparts for a pilot electronic certification system for the dairy sector.
“Our target to grow dairy output by 50 per cent in just five years means that we can play a leading role in meeting China’s growing demand,” said the Minister.
Kerrygold launched a new whole milk product under the Chinese trademark “Jin Kai Li”, which will be sold through Chinese retailers, regional shopping networks and e-commerce retailers.
The Kerrygold move is part of a broader strategy in advance of the ending of milk quotas next year and the company said it was a key part of its strategy to develop premium dairy products for markets in milk-deficit regions, particularly in Asia.
The Minister also opened the largest-ever Irish pavilion at the China Seafood and Fisheries Expo in the former German concession of Qingdao, where 11 seafood companies took part in the trade show, which is expected to attract 25,000 visitors from more than 100 countries.
Irish seafood exports have risen by more than 300 per cent since 2011 to reach €18 million in 2013; and sales are up 56 per cent in the first six months of this year. Irish exporters usually sell pelagic species to China, but there are plans to diversify into premium shellfish.