Taoiseach appeals to China to reopen market to Irish beef urgently

Martin expresses concern to Chinese over ongoing suspension of trade in Irish beef

Taoiseach Micheál Martin urged China to lift the temporary suspension of imports of Irish beef “as a matter of urgency”. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Taoiseach Micheál Martin urged China to lift the temporary suspension of imports of Irish beef “as a matter of urgency”. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The Taoiseach has appealed to the head of the Chinese government to reopen its market to Irish beef exports “as a matter of urgency”, The Irish Times has learned.

Exports of Irish beef to China have been suspended since last May after a case of “atypical BSE” was detected as part of a surveillance programme monitoring for the disease run by the Department of Agriculture.

In a letter seen by The Irish Times and sent on Wednesday to Li Keqiang, premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, Micheál Martin wrote of “concern” over the ongoing suspension of the trade in Irish beef to the nation of 1.4 billion people.

The intervention of the Taoiseach is seen as a significant diplomatic step, with the prospect of purchases from China seen as an important step in supporting beef prices this year.

“The Chinese market has been closed to Irish beef exports for over six months now, based on a single isolated case of atypical BSE last summer,” Mr Martin wrote. “The details of that case were fully explained at the time and further clarified in subsequent correspondence, which emphasised that there is no public health risk associated with this isolated and rare occurrence,” he wrote.

The atypical BSE case was detected in a 14-year-old cow last May. The next most recent atypical BSE case was detected in Galway in 2017. The classic strain of BSE, known as mad cow disease, was first identified in Ireland more than 30 years ago.

Irish beef exports to China had been growing in the period before the ban, with some €38.8 million worth of exports going to the country in 2019. That year, Bord Bia and departmental projections suggested that beef exports could have grown to about €120 million by the end of last year, amid a growing appetite for beef in the country.

‘Strong collaborative ties’

In the letter, Mr Martin referenced “strong collaborative ties” between China and Ireland during the Covid-19 pandemic, writing that “the assistance Ireland received in rapidly sourcing PPE and other supplies from China last spring was greatly appreciated”.

The Taoiseach wrote that Irish beef has proved popular with Chinese consumers while the industry in Ireland “has worked very hard and formed very strong trading relationships with Chinese businesses. I value this relationship highly and I ask, therefore, that this temporary suspension be lifted as a matter of urgency.”

He told the Chinese premier that he wished that “this Year of the Ox bring[s] peace, health and prosperity”.

The development was welcomed by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue, who said it was a “very welcome and important development in the Government’s commitment to re-establishing the beef trade to China”.

“While we are not guaranteed to regain access for Irish beef to China, we must view it as a positive. The Chinese market has proven itself in being an important one for Irish beef and gives our sector further competition for our high-quality beef,” he said.

“Regaining access for our beef to China would certainly help underpin beef prices and farmer incomes, which are both critical to me as Minister.”