Approval of all meat plants for the Chinese market a priority

A key priority moving forward is ensuring that all Irish meat plants are approved to access the Chinese market, senior director of Meat Industry Ireland (MII) Cormac Healy has said.

Healy, who was part of a significant delegation to visit China during the past week, welcomed the news that additional meat plants were approved for both beef and pork exports to China.

Also Read: Additional Irish meat plants given green light for export to China

Commenting on the matter, he said: “This is a market of serious scale and if Ireland is to really capture the potential here, we need to get all our meat plants approved.

MII will continue to work with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and member companies to increase the number of processing plants cleared to export to China.

“We have been trying to get into this market and get access for Irish beef for some time now.

“Thankfully, Irish pig meat has been a very successful story here over the last 10 years. The volumes have built up each year to 40,000t or 50,000t. We want to see the beef market for Irish produce developing in that vein here as well,” he added.

What’s next on the agenda?

Continuing, Healy explained that MII has a number of key priorities that it wants to focus on in the coming months.

First off is additional plants being approved. He outlined that there are up to 24 plants in Ireland that have applied for access to the Chinese market and that MII wants to, as a priority, get all of these plants approved.

Speaking to AgriLand, he stressed: “We then need to look at some of the other conditions around the access here.

Currently, the access we have is for frozen boneless beef. We need to get access for bone-in product; because there are some bone-in cuts in particular that are sought after in the market – and also fresh then at that stage.

“The other big aspect is to then get the direct access on offal as well. So it’s a case of a good start, but there’s a long way to go. We also have to follow up on the access for sheepmeat and, indeed, I know the poultry industry is looking for access here too.

“As the minister said earlier in the week, there are many countries around the world beating a track here to China and they are all looking for access.

“But we have to deal with one at a time. Hopefully, we can keep the pressure on to firstly get more plants approved, then look at broadening the certification and then moving on to sheepmeat and poultry meat,” he added.

How important is access to the Chinese market?

Meanwhile, access to the Chinese market for Irish beef exports – as well as access to other international markets for various agri-food exports – can not be underestimated, Healy pointed out.

The point is that Ireland is an exports-focused market. Across the meats, 80% to 90% of production is exported – so we have to be focused on maximising access to international markets.

“We have been working on that as Meat Industry Ireland – working with the industry, the Department of Agriculture and Bord Bia – to try and push that market access.

“It is a time-consuming and, unfortunately, a slow-moving exercise. I know many companies are frustrated with the pace of access and the delivery on it, but we just have to keep pressing.”

MII’s senior director also stated that there are plenty of other markets being looked into at the moment.

“We have many other markets out there on our radar as well – including South Korea in terms of beef and lamb access; thankfully pork has access there and is going well.

In Japan, we need to get sheepmeat access. In the US, we need to get sheepmeat access. In Vietnam, we need to get access for beef. So there is a long list and we need to keep pushing.

Brexit looming large

Concluding, Healy also warned that Brexit is looming on the horizon.

“Hopefully, it won’t be a disastrous outcome – but we need to do everything possible to mitigate it and that’s about getting access to as many markets as possible.

“It is also the case that access to these markets is the only thing that can deliver on returns for the market and ultimately on price for the farmers for the various products.

If you look at Irish beef prices at the moment, they’re very strong. Overall, our composite beef price is close to 109% of the EU average price.

“We constantly have to highlight that, because we are a market that is a surplus market. We depend on exports and many of the markets that we are compared with are deficit markets – where they are importing product and their own domestic production has a premium.

“Irish beef prices being up over 100% of the EU average at any stage is a strong performance,” he said.