Irish trade mission to China looks to expand markets for foodstuffs

End to beef ban to help accelerate Irish food exports to China, Minister says

Ireland's strong trading relationship with China is going to grow at an accelerated rate, particularly since the end to a ban on beef, according to Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed.

Mr Creed is leading a large delegation of Irish food companies to China this week ahead of Irish beef hitting the shelves of Chinese supermarkets this summer.

During the visit to Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Hong Kong, the Minister will sign a number of deals based around the Chinese government decision to allow Irish beef into China.

“The value of Irish agrifood exports to China continues to grow and this is welcome. But the partnership between Ireland and China goes far beyond a transactional trading arrangement,” Mr Creed told The Irish Times.

Ireland’s agrifood exports to China have increased roughly fivefold from around €200 million in 2010 to nearly €1 billion last year. China is now Ireland’s third-largest market overall.

Dairy exports reached €667 million in 2017 and pig meat exports have increased from €37 million to €100.3 million in the last five years. China is also a growing market for seafood and other food and drink exports.

Premium product

While beef is a fringe product in the Chinese diet, the consensus is that it will be a premium product in the big cities. Dairy was also a niche taste in China 10 years ago but it has since become big part of the Chinese diet.

A burgeoning middle class means increased demand for beef, and domestically produced meat is expensive. That means the market for overseas beef is expanding.

China is currently Ireland’s second-biggest market for dairy and pork.

To date, ABP Clones in Co Monaghan, Slaney Meats in Co Wexford and Donegal Meat processors have been granted approval to the Chinese market. ABP Nenagh, Kepak Clonee, Kildare Chilling, Liffey Meats and Dawn Meats are all awaiting approval.

Britain currently makes up half of Irish beef imports, so a looming Brexit makes China look even more attractive.

Ireland has had three tortuous years since China formally lifted a ban on Irish beef exports to China imposed after the BSE crisis. Inspectors from the China state administration of quality supervision, inspection and quarantine have made regular trips to visit beef plants in Ireland.

Ireland has some catching up to do. As it stands, Brazil and Australia are the dominant exporters of beef into China, with 30 per cent and 19 per cent market share, respectively, in 2016.

A similar-sized competitor is New Zealand. With a population of 4.7 million, New Zealand is more closely comparable to Ireland. China is New Zealand’s largest export destination and it has made amazing strides in the market.

This week's visit coincides with a delegation of more than 70 European companies from the European agrifood sector led by Phil Hogan, European commissioner for agriculture and rural development, who is in China to promote "safe and quality food and beverages" from Europe.

Both the Irish and the European Union delegation will be going to SIAL China, Asia’s largest food innovation exhibition, which usually attracts more than 100,000 visitors. The EU is “region of honour” this year, and will have a large pavilion at the fair showcasing the qualities of European agrifood products.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing