Irish plants to start trading with China in 'the very near future'
Irish beef exporters are gearing up to access potentially lucrative contracts in the vast Asian marketplace of China after shipments were finally green-lit.
Ireland is the first European beef exporter to secure access to China, where a growing middle class has helped consumption of beef rise steadily.
Meat processors hailed it as an "important breakthrough" after many years of work to access the rapidly growing Chinese beef import market.
However, farm bodies have cautioned that farmers must see a dividend from the opening of the market before it can be judged a true success.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said the approval is for frozen boneless beef, but it may be possible to "expand the range of products over time".
It has already been flagged that the marketplace could be worth well over €100m even in the early stages. China is already the world's second-biggest beef importer and access for Irish beef is seen as a major win for the industry here.
Overall, beef imports to China have increased from under 100,000t in 2012 to around 700,000t last year - and it is expected to double by 2020. That is more than Ireland's total beef exports of 550,000t to all markets last year.
It has been hailed as a major achievement for the sector, particularly in light of concerns over Brexit as the UK currently accounts for 50pc of Irish beef imports.
The first three Irish plants to be approved are the Goodman-owned ABP Clones in Co Monaghan, Slaney Foods in Co Wexford and Foyle Meats in Co Donegal.
Meat Industry Ireland's (MII's) Cormac Healy said they expected the plants would be in a position to start trading with China in "the very near future".
It also paves the way for the €50m three-year deal ABP has already signed to supply beef to Chinese restaurant chain Wowprime.
A further five factories were also audited, and work will continue to ensure the approval of ABP Nenagh, Kepak Clonee, Liffey Meats, Dawn Meats Charleville and Kildare Chilling.
In total, 25 plants throughout Ireland have sought to access the market.
"The door has now been opened and there is a real opportunity for the industry to build on this," said Mr Creed after several years of work to gain access following the BSE ban being lifted by Chinese authorities in 2015.
Bord Bia's Tara McCarthy said it showed the industry's "strength, reputation and proven track record".
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