Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has urged the Irish meat industry "not to drop the ball" if it wants to maintain a good trade relationship with China.
Speaking at the ‘Doing Business in China’ seminar in Shanghai yesterday as part of his Department’s week-long trade mission to China, Minister Creed said while Ireland has gained beef access to China “on merit”, it’s important that all of the industry meets the strict Chinese regulations on quality and food safety if Ireland wants to maintain access.
“I am very confident about Ireland’s agri-food exports to China. In a few short years, the Chinese market has already proven its extraordinary potential.
"Ireland’s agri-food exports to China have increased roughly five-fold from around €200 million in 2010 to approximately €1 billion last year. This achievement is truly remarkable and in many ways is a minor economic miracle.”
“However, with every offering, we’re selling the reputation of our country, and if anyone of us drops the ball, it will impact on us all,” he said.
He also added that he met with Chinese officials yesterday to discuss the prospect of widening the Irish beef access beef deal as at present beef exported into China from Ireland will have to be boneless, frozen and under 30 months of age.
Bord Bia Trade Marketing Manager based in Shanghai Conor O’ Sullivan told those at the seminar that China is Ireland’s biggest market for pork and that beef could very well follow suit if the Chinese continue to increase their consumption.
“Officially, China imported 700,000 tonnes of beef in 2017. That was 20pc more than the year before, and this is only the start,” he said.
“Look at how little beef the Chinese eat compared to even the Koreans and Japanese. As incomes rise over the next couple of decades, it’s very likely this figure will rise by 3 three to four kilos and each kilo it goes up by means China will have to source another 1.4 million tonnes,” he said.
However, at present the premium market for beef in China is grain-fed beef from the US and Canada and Mr O’ Sullivan warned that it would be an initial challenge for Ireland to get a premium for its grass-fed product.
“There is very little recognition for grass-fed beef, most of which is imported from South America, so it tends to be cheaper and goes unbranded into processing or mass-market foodservice, ”he said.
“You can’t build a brand, or a premium, if no one knows that they’re eating your beef. The number one challenge for Ireland is ensuring that consumers know when they’re eating our beef. “
He added that in order to build a respected beef brand in “the most digitally connected country in the world” Irish beef companies will have to be visible online to the foodservice sector they aim to target.
The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys has signed off on changes to Employment Permit Regulations, which will make it easier for certain businesses in the agri-food sector to source workers from outside the EEA.