Irish beef is expected to be en route to markets in China within the coming few weeks, following this week’s announcement that it has lifted the suspension on market access for Irish beef.

Beef shipments to China were suspended following the confirmation in May 2020 of an isolated case of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

This isolated case did not enter the food chain and posed no risk to human health.

Nevertheless, beef exports were immediately suspended as a precautionary measure in line with the bilateral protocol on trade agreed with the General Administration of Customs of China (GACC).

On Thursday, January 5, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, announced the resumption of beef exports from Ireland to China.

Commenting on the development, the senior manager of the livestock and meat team at Bord Bia, Joe Burke, said the resumption of market access is “definitely to be welcomed and will be a positive step for Irish beef markets and demand”.

He outlined that Irish beef product could be en route to China “by February or maybe sooner”.

It takes six to eight weeks for Irish beef to reach markets in China, travelling overseas in frozen containers on ships.

Burke added that Irish beef exporters have maintained contact with their customers in China and said “they will be in a position to start negotiating deals fairly quickly”.

He explained: “The foodservice channel is the main route we would have sold Irish beef in the past.

“While foodservice was curtailed and restricted on and off over the last couple of years, hopefully there’s some indication that it’s reopening and that should hopefully mean a better demand out there.”

In order for Irish beef to be eligible for export to China, there are a number of strict protocols and specifications that both the cattle and the factories they are slaughtered in must meet.

“Most factories will already be familiar with the protocols and the requirements for beef going to the Chinese market,” Burke said.

Some factories allocate a certain day for processing cattle for the Chinese market. Not all the beef from these cattle go to China as the market tends to be stronger for some types of beef cuts over others.

The Chinese New Year takes place January this year and Burke noted that it may well be after this when orders are placed.

Cattle supply

Commenting on the supply of finished cattle for 2023, the Bord Bia senior manager said that cattle supplies will be “a good bit tighter especially for the first half of the year”.

He said that in the first six months of 2023, the supply of finished cattle could fall by as much as 50-60,000 head on last year’s levels.

He noted that this trend is forecast due to a number of factors including the recovery of calf exports in 2021 resulting in less finished cattle around and the economics of winter finishing causing more farmers to go for a grass finish later in the year.

He noted that supplies of cattle will likely increase in the second part of the year and noted that when this trend occurred in the second half of 2022, prices came back.

“That will be a definite concern if that was to happen again,” Burke added.