Chinese beef market opens to Irish exports

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Ireland exports almost a €1bn in agri-food products to China each year.

In 2016, China became the world's second-largest beef importer behind the U.S., importing 800,000 metric tons worth $2.6 billion.

CEO Tara McCarthy said: "Bord Bia, and in particular, our Shanghai office, has been actively planning and preparing for today's breakthrough, and we are now well-positioned and ready to maximize this significant opportunity for Irish beef exporters".

So far three Irish beef processing factories - the Goodman-owned ABP Clones in Co Monaghan, Slaney Foods in Co Wexford, and Foyle Meats in Co Donegal - have been approved to ship frozen boneless beef after meeting the criteria following strict audits.

It is the culmination of years of talks between Ireland and China and the result of a "huge effort by Team Ireland", said the Minister.

However, farm lobby groups say it must deliver monies to farmers on the ground, as beef farmers struggle with low incomes. With Brexit looming, efforts have been made to diversify into new markets.

Now that threat has receded, Chinese consumers are keen to buy more beef and with the high cost of breeding cattle in China leading to insufficient domestic supply, the government has reconsidered its bans.

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Meanwhile, it was also revealed by RTE's George Lee that a second tranche of processors were also awaiting approval - these include: ABP Nenagh; Kepak Clonee; Kildare Chilling; Liffey Meats; and Dawn Meats, Charleville, Co. China is Ireland's third-largest market overall.

Processors and Mr Creed were reluctant to set a firm figure on the potential value of lucrative contracts to the region. A formal agreement to lift the ban was announced in 2015.

The processors also said they would continue to push for access for other products such as meat on the bone plus the valuable "fifth quarter", or offal.

Irish beef is being allowed back into China.

Irish agri-food exports to China have increased five-fold over the past eight years and were worth an estimated €974m last year, including €667m in dairy and €100m in pigmeat exports.

"We have a number of plants that are now approved - we hope to have others approved shortly - and it is up to those plants to build their market contacts out there".

He added that the more markets Ireland could access, the bigger the opportunities of delivering better margins for the primary producer.