Beef exports to China have been building in recent years, but still only account for a relatively small proportion of exports from Ireland overall, going by the statistics.
This follows the news earlier today, Wednesday, May 27, that beef exports to China have been temporarily suspended, due to the discovery earlier this month of a case of atypical BSE in an 18-year-old cow.
According to Bord Bia figures, from January to March 2020, 2,886t of Irish beef – to the value of €10.8 million – was exported to China.
Ireland gained access to the Chinese beef market in April 2018; with beef exports worth €9 million going into the Asian country in 2018 overall.
By comparison, in 2019 beef exports (excluding offal) were valued at €2.1 billion, and totalled 560,000t. Offal was worth €182 million, bringing the total to €2.28 billion last year.
In 2018, beef exports amounted to some 579,000t of (excluding offal), worth €2.32 billion. Offal was worth €230 million, bringing beef exports combined with offal to just over €2.5 billion.
The beef sent to China in 2018 accounted for 0.36% of the total figure in terms of value.
However, in spite of the relatively low current value of the Chinese market to the Irish beef sector, there are high hopes for its potential in the future.
Last November, Bord Bia forecast a potential for the Chinese market to import 25,000-30,000t of Irish beef with a value of up to €120 million to the Irish beef sector.
It was added at the time that longer term forecasts suggest that import demand will be around 2.2 million tonnes by 2025.
Optimism was slightly tempered by warnings from processors of turbulent markets in December.
While the current suspension is no doubt a spanner in the works, the impact of this will depend on how long the halt in exports to China remains in place.
According to international media outlet Reuters, last year Brazil had a similar situation where a suspension was placed on its beef exports to China on June 3, after a case was reported in a 17-year-old cow in the state of Mato Grosso.
However, it should be noted that Brazil exported vastly larger quantities of beef to China last year, exporting 1.828 million tonnes, according to Reuters reports.
By contrast, Canada was on the receiving end of a temporary suspension on beef and pork exports to China which lasted from June 25, 2019, through to November 5, 2019 – more than four months later – though this suspension was due to the discovery of a banned feed additive in a batch of pork imported from Canada, Global Meat News reported at the time.
How long the suspension on Irish beef exports will be in place remains to be seen.