The signing of formal protocols which have advanced the case for the export of sheepmeat and breeding pigs to China has been welcomed by Meat Industry Ireland (MII).

In a statement over the weekend, the Ibec industry body reacted to the news that Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue has signed and exchanged formal protocols with Minister Ni of the General Administration of Customs of China (GACC) that are set to “pave the way” for the export of sheepmeat and breeding pigs from Ireland to China.

MII said that this, along with the US, “has been one of our key target markets for securing access”.

The organisation added that Irish sheepmeat processors “continue to pursue product innovation and export market diversification to underpin the positive development of the sector”.

MII senior director Cormac Healy said: “Securing access to the Chinese market will be a positive step for the Irish sheepmeat sector.

“China has shown a growing appetite for lamb in recent years and has become a major global import destination.

“We look forward to seeing high quality, sustainably produced Irish lamb on the market in China in the coming months.”

MII said its processors will continue to work with the Department of Agriculture to finalise the necessary steps, including animal health and veterinary standard operating procedures (SOPs) to get the rest of the way.

“Our main processing facilities have been inspected by the Chinese veterinary authorities in August 2019 and we look forward to those being registered by the GACC in China as soon as possible,” the meat industry body added.

Describing this year as “a positive and encouraging period for the Irish sheepmeat sector” MII said that record producer prices were delivered throughout the year, reaching an €8/kg high earlier this year and currently running almost €1/kg ahead of prices this time last year.

However, MII also stressed the critical importance of managing to resume exporting Irish beef to China, adding that it “hopes that this recent engagement paves the way for progress on the beef file”.

“The 15-month suspension of Ireland’s beef exports to China is a major loss to the entire beef sector in Ireland, just as sales to this exciting new market were set to ramp up,” the organisation concluded.