Irish beef exports to China to resume immediately

Announcement of move following BSE-linked suspension comes as Chinese premier Li Qiang meets Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Chinese premier Li Qiang at Farmleigh House in Dublin's Phoenix Park. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

China has reopened its market to Irish beef after exports were suspended late last year due to the detection of an atypical BSE case in a cow during routine Department of Agriculture tests.

The announcement was made on Wednesday by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during a visit to Dublin by Chinese premier Li Qiang.

Mr Varadkar said the reopening was “imminent” and the Department of Agriculture later confirmed the move had already happened.

The news will be a relief for farmers and meat exporters given a 2020 scare related to BSE, commonly known as mad cow disease, led to the suspension of beef exports to China for 2½ years.


The access of Irish beef into the country was only permitted to resume from the start of last year following lengthy negotiations between Irish and Chinese authorities.

Michael D Higgins raises human rights issues with Chinese premierOpens in new window ]

Mr Li’s visit to Ireland saw him meet Mr Varadkar at Farmleigh in the Phoenix Park for a working lunch. The menu offered Kenmare Salmon or Roast Irish Hereford beef sirloin.

Ireland’s beef exports to China were worth almost €40 million in 2019 ahead of the previous suspension, but the market is seen as one with considerable scope for growth.

Irish exports to China soared to record levels following the last visit to Ireland by a high-ranking Chinese government official, Xi Jinping in 2012 when he was his country’s vice-president.

The Chinese market for Irish exports has grown significantly in recent years to €14 billion, with the agri-food sector recording €722 million in exports to China in 2022, an increase of 76 per cent over a decade.

The Taoiseach said China has accepted Ireland’s scientific data that the BSE case was an atypical case.

“That allows us to reopen that export markets which is important for Irish farmers, for the food industry, because the more markets we have, the better price we get and, the less risk of volatility as well.”

The President of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA), Denis Drennan, welcomed the announcement on beef exports and said that credit was due to Ministers and their officials for convincing the Chinese to overturn the “unnecessary” ban.

Mr Drennan said that taken together with the recent increase in beef prices, the sector could now look into 2024 with more confidence. He called on Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to build on these developments by looking again at the greater integration of the dairy and beef sectors, as well as margins in the beef supply chain.

Asia Matters’ Executive Director, Martin Murray, said the resumption of beef exports represented fantastic news for Irish farmers and the economy.

“The last time we had a full year of Ireland beef exports to China was in 2019 and they were worth almost €40 million then.

“The economy in China has grown since and even more opportunities now exist for Irish farmers in Asia’s largest marketplace.

“China is our fourth largest trade partner, and bilateral trade has significantly grown over the last decade, from €3.7 billion in 2014 to a record €25.3 billion in 2022.

“It is therefore vital we build on our already strong links with China to enhance Ireland’s future prosperity,” he said.

Meanwhile, China will offer visa-free entry to Irish citizens, extending a policy introduced last year for some other European countries, Mr Li announced on Wednesday. The Chinese news agency Xinhua said the unilateral move would facilitate personnel exchanges between the two countries, adding that Mr Li voiced the expectation that Ireland would provide an open, fair and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese enterprises.

“China is willing to strengthen co-ordination and co-operation with Ireland within the United Nations and other multilateral frameworks, practice genuine multilateralism, jointly tackle global challenges and promote the building of a community with a shared future for mankind”, he said.

“It is hoped that Ireland will play a greater role in promoting the sound and stable development of China-Europe relations.”

Since the beginning of last month, citizens of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain have been allowed to enter China for business, tourism or family visits for up to 15 days without a visa. Mr Li announced the extension of the policy to Switzerland during his visit to that country this week.

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times