Simon Coveney hails China for lifting ban on Irish beef
China's lifting of an import ban on Irish beef was a powerful endorsement of the country's farming industry, the Chinese premier was told at the start of a two-day visit to Ireland.
Premier of the People's Republic of China Li Keqiang was welcomed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and a number of government ministers on a tour of a farm in Co Mayo ahead of a bilateral meeting in nearby Ashford Castle.
In February Ireland became the first EU nation to see its beef import ban lifted by China.
Mr Li and his wife Cheng Hong were accompanied by a delegation of ministers from the Chinese government during their visit to the Garvey family farm.
Agriculture minister Simon Coveney hailed Ireland's developing relationship with China.
"Ireland greatly appreciates the lifting of the ban on Irish beef imports by China in February," he said.
"This is a powerful endorsement of Ireland's high standards by an administration for which food safety is a critical prerequisite for trade. Ireland is the first EU country to re-gain access to the US beef market and to have the beef ban lifted in China. We are co-operating closely with the Chinese authorities on the next technical steps to ensure that trade can commence as soon as possible and discussions are also continuing on access for sheepmeat and poultry."
The visit has already been marked with the signing of two new treaties between the countries.
Mr Coveney and his counterpart, Han Changfu, signed a joint statement on deepening agricultural cooperation.
Earlier, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, signed a diplomatic visa waiver agreement.
The deal will grant diplomatic passports holders exemption from visa requirements for visits of up to 90 days to each other's countries. It will also apply to official passport holders in some circumstances.
Welcoming the agreement, Mr Flanagan said: "It is a sign of the growing friendship between our two countries and the intensified trade and investment relationship."
The Irish government has characterised the visit as the latest step in the deepening of contacts and relations between Ireland and China at the highest level.
It follows on from the Taoiseach's visit to China in 2012.
Mr Li is an economist and is the head of government and regarded as being one of the key stewards of the future growth of one of the world's largest economies.