Friday 23 February 2018

China has new taste for imports

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

The announcement that Ireland is the first European country to gain access for its beef to both the US, and now China, will see Champagne corks popping this weekend.

Both countries have notoriously stringent food inspectorates, despite the endless food scandals that emanate from China.

But remember, the mother of all food scares in European terms was the discovery of mad cow disease in Britain, and then Ireland, in the 1990s.

We, along with every other major European exporter, were gradually shut out of key and emerging markets all over the world.

But in the 20 years that have passed, the Irish beef industry has focused on re-positioning itself as a premium-end supplier of beef, produced off some of the most environmentally sustainable systems in the world. Conveniently, the new wealthy of China have also developed an appetite for premium imported products.

The 12-lane arteries of Beijing are clogged with BMWs, Mercs and Audis, while Scotch whisky is a favourite gift for the party elite.

Granted, Beijing is not representative of the whole of China. But with nearly 40 million living in the mega-cities of Beijing and Shanghai, this tiny urban slice of China's 1.35bn people is more than enough for Irish food marketers to sink their teeth into.

Ironically, it won't be the fillet steaks and Sunday roasts that Irish beef factory bosses will be keen to get onto ships heading for China. Instead, they will be happy to offload the offal that many of their traditional customers in European markets turn their noses up at, anything from head to hoof - and everything inbetween.

Of course, the strong suspicion is that Irish beef has been making its way for years into China through the various 'grey channels' - effectively smuggling routes through key ports like Hong Kong, where Irish beef exports have almost trebled in the past three years.

The difference now is that the €40m a year of Irish beef in China will be official - allowing it to command more. That should, in turn, mean more money flowing down the chain back to beleaguered Irish beef farmers.

Irish Independent

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