Farm Ireland

Monday 11 December 2017

Beef exports to China could hit €75m in 2015

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney, who received praise from the Taoiseach for his role in the negotiations with China
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney, who received praise from the Taoiseach for his role in the negotiations with China
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Beef exports to China are expected to exceed €75m this year as processors gears up for official access to the world's fastest growing market.

Irish beef processors have already seen a massive increase in both the volume and value of the beef that they exported into China through the so-called 'grey channels' of Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam.

These destinations act as unofficial routes into the Chinese market, with official figures grossly under-estimating the total amount of beef being imported into the country.

In 2012, Irish beef offal and cuts for manufacturing exported through Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore amounted to less than 7,000t, or just over €7m. However, this had grown seven-fold to nearly 24,000t, or €57.5m in the subsequent two years to 2014. However, these export figures look set to grow significantly.

Next month will see a delegation of Chinese beef buyers engaging in a 'speed-dating' event with Irish exporters at Bord Bia's Marketplace International in the Convention Centre in Dublin. These buyers will also be taken on a two day tour show-casing the best of Irish beef farms and meat processing facilities, according to Bord Bia beef specialist Joe Burke.

But Irish companies will also be facing intense competition from Australian and New Zealand beef exporters that have signed up to very favourable trade agreements where tariffs on exports will be effectively eliminated over the next five years.

Despite the announcement by Minister Coveney, that the Chinese market was officially open to Irish beef imports, it has emerged this week that China's food safety inspectorate, the AQISQ, will need to visit a number of Irish beef plants over the coming months before exporters get the official green light.

In the uinterim Irish processors will continue to use the 'grey channels'. Hong Kong is the most important of these, accounting for over three quarters of total exports. In addition, it is the most lucrative market, with beef offal averaging €3/kg, which on a carcass-weight equivalent is close to €4/kg. This is almost double the prices that exporters were achieving just three years ago in 2012, according to figures from the CSO.

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With the removal of middle-men that 'facilitated' beef sales through these grey channels, industry experts believe that distribution costs will be cut by 15-20pc, while moving Irish beef into official channels will significantly broaden the customer base.

When all these factors are considered, beef exporters will be disappointed if they don't see a 50pc lift in Chinese sales over the coming 12 months. Privately, they also admit that the Chinese market holds greater growth potential than the US because explosive growth rates in Chinese beef consumption are predicted to continue for the coming decade.

In 1980, the average Chinese person consumed the equivalent of three quarter pounder beef burgers a year. In 2009, that figure had risen to 5kg, with another 20pc increase predicted by 2025. In contrast, beef consumption in the the US is in decline.

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