The opening of the Chinese market to Irish beef exports must “add to farmers’ margins” in order to be considered a success, according to the president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) Pat McCormack.

Though he was happy to acknowledge the enormous amount of work that had gone into this breakthrough, McCormack believed it was vital that we remembered that the point of securing new markets was to benefit the people producing the actual food.

He noted that there was an onus on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, and his department to look at the system and ensure that the new markets which should lead to an increased demand for cattle must – directly – lead to better prices and margins for the farmers producing that beef.

Otherwise, those markets were ultimately of little benefit, he said.

‘Must result in a price rise’

Meanwhile, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association’s (ICSA’s) beef chairman, Edmond Graham, said that farmers will have to see a dividend from the opening of the Chinese market before it can be judged a success.

“After a long, hard and expensive winter, the price of beef is simply nowhere near good enough for winter finishing.

The beef price needs to go to a base price of €4.25/kg in the short term to cover the costs of this winter. Farmers have been listening to optimism about China for five years, but it is no use to us if it does not result in a price rise.

“There can be no doubt that the opening of the market should allow for better prices, because meat factories will have options. They will – therefore – be in a stronger position to negotiate with EU supermarkets, and this opportunity must be used to drive a better price for farmers,” he said.

Securing eligibility

Commenting on this morning’s announcement, the president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) explained that it is important that eligibility is secured for all Irish beef products.

“The opening of the Chinese market, after a lot of hard work, presents the beef sector with an opportunity to build on the progress the Irish dairy and pig-meat sectors have made in China in recent years,” he said.

Healy outlined that Irish dairy exports reached €670 million and pig-meat exports grew to almost €100 million in 2017.

Continuing, he said: “To capture a substantial market share in the Chinese beef market, it is very important that eligibility is secured for all Irish beef products – and not just frozen boneless beef – and that all export beef plants are cleared.

In addition, it is essential that the market opportunity is not restrictive and the protocol is developed to allow beef products from all Irish livestock.

Concluding, Healy stated that the “major challenges” currently facing Minister Creed on beef remain the need to take action to improve the “unacceptably low income levels on Irish farms and the market challenges arising from Brexit, given that the UK market takes up to 280,000t of our beef exports”.