Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue has announced that “significant advances” have been made in gaining access for Irish sheepmeat and breeding pigs to China.

Minister 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.

On sheepmeat, Minister McConalogue said: “The sheep meat protocol that I have signed today represents an important milestone in gaining access to the Chinese market. China is a substantial importer of sheep meat, with a positive outlook for demand in the long term.

“I hope that, when the remaining steps are completed to enable trade to commence, exports will grow gradually over time, as Chinese consumers become familiar with the quality and taste of our Irish sheepmeat offering.

“This is a real mark of confidence in our sheep farmers who work so hard to produce a top-class product,” the minister added.

Minister of State with responsibility for new market development, Martin Heydon, commented: “My department, in collaboration with the Embassy of Ireland in Beijing, has pursued market access for sheepmeat with the Chinese authorities over a number of years.

“The agreement reached today follows on from a successful inspection of Irish plants by GACC auditors in August and September 2019.

“I know that Bord Bia has already conducted market insight research on the Chinese sheepmeat market, and is working with the industry on market preparations,” Minister Heydon added.

A number of technical steps remain before GACC can include the list of approved plants on their website.

In addition, before trade can commence, the Department of Agriculture here will have to put in place systems and safeguards to ensure compliance with protocol requirements on eligible product. This may take a number of months.

On breeding pigs, the newly signed protocol between Minister McConalogue and Minister Ni sets out the quarantine and hygiene requirements for the export of high-quality breeding pigs to China.

Minister Heydon said: “This agreement is a recognition of Ireland’s strong history of breeding and selling superior health-status pigs to many overseas markets.

“The export of breeding pigs with economically important traits is a niche market opportunity. It reflects well on the breeding population developed by specialist Irish producers,” he concluded.

Beef access to China

On the issue of access of Irish beef to China, which was stopped some 16 months ago due to an atypical case of BSE in one cow, Minister McConalogue said that department officials, through the Embassy of Ireland in Beijing, “continue to engage positively with their Chinese counterparts” with a view to re-opening market access for Irish beef.

However, he noted the timing of that decision lies with the Chinese authorities.

“Regaining beef access to the Chinese market remains a priority. Our engagement on these protocols is encouraging in this regard, and I hope that the Chinese authorities will soon be in a position to make a positive decision to allow exports to resume,” the minister commented.