Last week every Irish company that applied for approval to export dairy products to China was approved after stringent audits by Chinese authorities.

In stark contrast Irish and EU beef is still banned from China because of the legacy of BSE and this ban came into force in the year 2000.

In a response to a parliamentary question last week Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said: “To date no other EU country has succeeded in having this ban lifted. I have been seeking re-entry to this market for some time and as part of these efforts, we completed a very detailed questionnaire for the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) on animal health risk factors for Irish Cattle and Cattle Source products.”

“This was passed to the MOA in May 2011. A copy was also sent to Chinese Inspection and Quarantine Service (AQSIQ), which I understand will have the ultimate authority to lift any BSE ban. This questionnaire was updated following further questions from the Chinese Authorities in August 2013.”

Minister Coveney noted the issue of access for Irish beef has been raised at the highest political levels. The Taoiseach specifically raised the issue with President Xi Jinping during his visit in March 2012 and was advised by him that China is generally positive and confident about the safety of Irish beef.

He said: “I have also raised the matter with Chinese counterparts whenever the opportunity has arisen, notably in discussions with with Vice Minister Niu Dun (MOA) and Minister Zhi Shuping (AQSIQ) when I visited China in April 2012. The Tánaiste visited China for a four day trade mission in mid August 2013 and also raised the issue of Irish beef with senior officials there.”

“A significant result of my visit during my meeting with Minister Zhi Shuping (AQSIQ) was the agreement to the establish a working group between my Department and AQSIQ on the issue. This made Ireland the first and only EU MS to proceed to joint working group level.”

This meeting took place in December 2013 when a team of five senior officials from the Department visited Beijing for high level meetings with representatives of AQSIQ and MOA where they addressed any remaining concerns on the Chinese side regarding the safety of Irish beef.

“As an agreed follow-up action to the meeting and in order that the Chinese authorities may verify the information which we have given, my Department has invited a team from the Chinese authorities to visit Ireland where we will be able to demonstrate all the controls which we have put in place. In order to help focus such a visit, we have submitted to the Chinese authorities a draft Protocol for the export of meat to China and also a draft veterinary health certificate, which could accompany consignments of bovine meat to China,” Minister Coveney noted.

He said: “Our Embassy in Beijing is now pursuing this matter with the Chinese authorities and we await a formal response from their side to our proposals.”

It must be remembered of course that ultimately the gaining of access to the Chinese market for Irish Beef is a matter for the Chinese Authorities. My Department is continuing to engage proactively with those authorities with a view to securing such access.