Irish beef set for Chinese shelves by mid-summer

Six processors cleared for exports — and sheep meat access is next target

Minister Michael Creed. Photo: Tony Gavin
Minister Michael Creed. Photo: Tony Gavin
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Irish beef should be on the market in China by mid-summer - and the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, is challenging the meat companies to maximise its potential.

Speaking at the Irish Embassy in Beijing at the start of a week-long trade mission to China, Minister Creed was reluctant to put a potential value on the Chinese beef market, but he said six Irish processors will have access to it this year.

“I won’t put a figure on it because I think that would be unwise. It’s our function to open the market; it’s the industry’s role to sell thereafter,” Minister Creed said.

However, he pointed out that China is the third biggest export market for Irish food and drink, and that beef will add significantly to overall trade.

While the IFA welcomed the opening of China for Irish beef, its president Joe Healy said access needed to be extended beyond the current confines of boneless and frozen beef from under-30-month cattle.

“To capture a substantial market share in the Chinese beef market, it is very important that eligibility is secured for all Irish beef products and not just frozen boneless beef,” he said.

“It is essential that the market opportunity is not restrictive and the protocol is developed to allow beef products from all Irish livestock.”

Mr Healy pointed out that China consumes one-quarter of the world’s meat supply, and imported 700,000 tonnes of beef in 2017. The total beef market in China is expected to double by 2020.

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Infant formula

Meanwhile, Ireland’s reputation as a trusted supplier of top-quality infant formula will bolster Irish beef sales to China, Bord Bia predicted.

James O’Donnell, Bord Bia’s China manager, explained that Chinese mothers pay €45-55 for an 800g container of Irish-made infant formula because they know it is safe and of a high standard. He said this recognition of Irish product as safe will help Irish beef sales.

“There’s very strict regulation around infant formula in China so the fact that Ireland can meet those regulations is very beneficial for Irish beef,” Mr O’Donnell said.

“It’s very much a female market. The middle- to upper-class female who might have been educated abroad is the type of consumer we are aiming our beef at.”

China’s large population and low breast-feeding rate make it the most lucrative and competitive market for infant formula. 

China imported 20,000 tonnes of infant formula in January 2018 compared to 15,000 tonnes the previous year, with Ireland being a significant supplier.

In terms of sheep meat exports to China, Minister Creed said that gaining access to the market was the Department of Agriculture’s next priority, but that this process was just starting.

“We’re at the very early stages on sheep meat access; we were effectively told in the most polite way possible to focus on one product at a time and we did, we prioritised beef,” Minister Creed said.

“We’re at very preliminary stages of sheep meat access. I can’t say when we will clear all the hurdles before us, but we are working on deepening the relationship.”


While Ireland’s total food and drink exports to China grew by 5pc in 2017 to €907m, Minister Creed said it was too ambitious to say that the Chinese market would surpass the UK and US in terms of importance.

However, he said China provided a valuable alternative outlet for produce.

“Geography should always be a determinate of trade. The UK is our biggest market for beef, as it is for pork,” he said.

“About 50pc of our beef goes into the market there, so it’s really opportune that we look for new market opportunities and there is no better market opportunity for us than the Chinese market in terms of the scale of it.”

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