More Chinese inspections as beef exports from Ireland inch closer

Chinese delegation to visit eight Irish meat plants this week

More than two years after the formal lifting of an embargo on Irish beef exports to China, Ireland remains in limbo, with no formal agreement on when trade can recommence.

Chinese inspectors will make another trip to Ireland this week, visiting eight beef plants, as the torturous process of securing Beijing approval for export licences continues.

Inspectors from the China state administration of quality supervision, inspection and quarantine (AQSIQ) have been teed up to visit various plants operated by Ireland's leading processors, including Kepak, ABP, Slaney, Dawn, Dunleavy and Liffey.

The latest series of inspections are seen as the final leg in the process to secure access to China’s fast-growing beef market, a process that began with the lifting of the BSE ban in February 2015.


It is unclear at this stage if the Chinese export licences will be issued to individual plants or to individual processors, or to the beef industry here as a whole.

With Brexit casting a shadow over the UK market, which takes most of Ireland’s beef output, gaining access to China has taken on added urgency.

“My officials and I are engaging on an ongoing basis with the Chinese authorities in pursuit of securing beef market access,” Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said.

China, the world’s top meat market, is loosening long-standing restrictions on beef imports from major suppliers to feed the appetite of the country’s growing middle class for steaks and ribs.

Over the past few decades, Beijing banned imports of beef from European countries and the United States during outbreaks of mad cow disease.

Stringent inspections

Worries about the disease are subsiding following more stringent inspections on foreign arrivals, while Chinese people are seeking healthier sources of protein and adopting more western-style eating habits.

Beef is now the fastest-growing meat in China, outstripping stagnant demand for more widely-eaten pork as consumers look to reduce fat in their diets. But supplies are unlikely to keep up with demand given the high cost of raising cattle in China, prompting the government to rethink its import restrictions.

After years of lobbying, the United States succeeded in getting the curbs lifted in June, ending a 14-year ban triggered by a case of mad-cow disease in Washington state.

As well as Ireland, China also gave the greenlight for beef from South Africa earlier this year. China's beef purchases have soared in recent years, eclipsing Europe, South Korea and Japan since 2012. Last year, it became the world's second-largest importer of beef after the United States, bringing in more than 800,000 tonnes worth $2.6 billion.

– Additional reporting Reuters

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times