We must seize our chance for China market
Published 22/02/2012 | 06:00
The man who is likely to be one of the two most powerful politicians in the world over the next decade decided to spend 40 minutes of his precious time on a Co Clare dairy farm last Sunday.
It suited Xi Jinping, who is widely tipped to be China's next president, to use Ireland as the European stop on his world tour. Stops in any of the other major European countries would probably have generated more negative publicity from human rights groups or opponents of the significant weapons trade that China has with many EU states.
Whatever the reasons, it suits Irish Food Inc down to the ground. China needs to be able to feed a fifth of the world's population with less than 7pc of the planet's arable land.
We already export €85m of infant formula to China, €33m of hides and skins, €15m of whey, €11m of pig and poultry meat and €7m of other food and drinks.
The big ticket item missing from this list is beef. Much of Minister Coveney's efforts when he goes to China for a week next April will be focused on getting the 10-year-old ban lifted on European beef due to the BSE saga. If he can get it lifted, there is an almost limitless market in volume terms for meat for a nation that is developing a serious appetite for protein-rich, western style diets.
But, as he has stressed, this will not be a fast process. Even though Ireland would account for a huge proportion of any beef exports from the EU, the fact that it is an EU-wide BSE ban complicates the diplomatic process of prizing open this market again.
We're not going to get a resolution on this in April, but the minister is confident that it is a question of when, rather than if, we get back into the Chinese market.