Irish food exporters travelled to Shanghai earlier this month to take part in the SIAL China Food Fair, with meat industry representatives hopeful they can build on China's decision to lift restrictions on Irish beef.
With Irish milk exports to China worth €400 million, and with the beef ban lifted, the country is emerging as an important customer for Irish food producers. Ireland’s food exports to China have more than doubled to €620 million since 2011.
The value of Irish food and drink exports to China have increased in value tenfold over the past 10 years. China is Ireland’s second-biggest market for both dairy and pigmeat and the sixth largest market overall.
"The increased presence of Irish companies at SIAL proves the commitment of Bord Bia and our food exporters to respond to the new opportunities in Asia and China," said Aidan Cotter, chief executive of Bord Bia.
“In the meantime the lifting of the ban on Irish beef provide the opportunity for our beef exporters to forge similarly fruitful relationships.”
The Food Fair hosted 2,734 exhibitors from around the world and more than 55,000 buyers in 10 halls, spread over 115,000sq m.
The weakness of the euro is a great opportunity for food exports to China.
According to Bord Bia, markets outside the EU accounted for 29 per cent of Ireland’s food and drink exports in 2014, an increase of 15 per cent on the previous year, to stand at €3 billion.
“The growth in exports in 2014 was led by Asia (€850 million) with almost two-thirds of this figure accounted for by China (61 per cent) where exports increased by almost 40 per cent to reach €520 million,” said Cotter.
Chinese consumer preference is for beef cuts which are less in demand in European markets, which provides a complementary export outlet and maximises the overall returns to Irish producers and processors, he said.
There was also a large contingent of Chinese buyers atBord Bia's Marketplace International 2015 event in Dublin in March.
Ahead of the event, Bord Bia reached out to more than 1,000 potential trade visitors and the organisation said it would provide marketing expertise and logistical backup to the nine participating Irish exporters and their clients.
Among the Irish firms on the Origin Green pavilion were ABP Ireland, AgraKepak International, Ashbourne Meat Processors, Dawn Meats Group, Dawn Pork & Bacon/Dawn International, Liffey Meats, Rosderra Irish Meats Group Ltd, ORNUA and Glanbia Consumer Foods Ireland.
China banned EU imports over mad cow disease, or BSE, the epidemic that spread from Britain to mainland Europe, 15 years ago, but now Ireland is the only European country allowed to export beef to China.
By 2018, per capita kilogram consumption of beef is expected to be five kilos per annum versus 40 kilos for pork. China’s middle class is increasingly fond of imported beef and demand is expected to rise to more than 750,000 tonnes by 2023, while still only accounting for approximately 3 per cent of the country’s meat consumption.