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Coveney confident of China beef approval

Minister sure Irish farmers will start exports in three to 15 months

It could take anything from three to 15 months before Ireland gets the green light for beef exports to China, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney cautioned yesterday.

While he warned the Irish farm sector to "be realistic" in their expectations, the minister is convinced that Irish beef will eventually get access to the Chinese market. He said that progress had been made during high-level talks in Beijing yesterday between his officials and a Chinese team that was headed by their vice minister for agriculture, Niu Dun.

It has now been confirmed that two separate Chinese agriculture and import quarantine delegations will visit Ireland in May and June. A joint working group specifically to deal with the issue of market access for Irish beef is also to be established - a first for any EU country, although similar ones already exist with Canada and the US.

Agreeing the terms of reference for the working group is seen as clearing the way for an official visit by Chinese vets to inspect Irish slaughter plants -- but this could take time.

However, beef exports will certainly top the agenda again in June when a delegation from the Administration of Quarantine Inspection Services (AQSIQ) visits Ireland.

It is understood that AQSIQ is a key player in the access negotiations and its visit is being viewed as a significant development.

The AQSIQ delegation, which will be headed by agriculture vice minister Wei Chao'an, will assess Ireland's animal disease controls, and animal identification and traceability regulations.

The slow pace of negotiations on market access reflects lingering BSE concerns among Chinese consumers.

Food quality remains a key issue in China, and particularly so in the wake of the country's melanine-tainted milk scandal.

Meanwhile, there was good news on the business front for four Irish firms travelling with Mr Coveney on this week's Chinese trade mission.

Connolly's Red Mills, a Kilkenny animal feed company, became the first in the world to secure a licence to export horse feed into mainland China.

The deal is potentially worth several million euro for the Goresbridge-based company. The Chinese equine feed market is estimated to be worth €16m a year and is expanding rapidly.

North Dublin-based fruit company Keelings also announced the signing of a licensing agreement with one of the largest fresh produce companies in China, Good Farmer. The deal will see Keelings supply customised software to assist Good Farmer's supply chain management.

Also in China, the Irish Dairy Board (IDB) today announced that it was expanding its distribution network and extending the Kerrygold product range with the addition of Kerrygold UHT milk.

Meanwhile, Limerick-based machinery manufacturer Samco has secured an agreement that will see its biodegradable plastic planting system for maize being rolled out to farmers across northern China and Inner Mongolia, in partnership with DuPont's Pioneer maize seed business.

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