An “intensive series of virtual trade engagements” has been held between an Irish delegation and existing and potential customers in China – during which the matter of Irish beef exports was broached, according to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The virtual trade mission was led by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue and Minister of State with special responsibility for New Market Development, Martin Heydon.

Commenting, Minister McConalogue said: “Last year, approximately a third of Ireland’s total food and drink exports were destined for international markets outside of Europe.

Irish exports to Asian markets have grown very rapidly over the last decade. Indeed, China is now Ireland’s fourth largest agri-food export destination, with exports valued at over €872 million last year.

Noting that China is Ireland’s second largest market for exports of dairy and pigmeat, the minister added:

“In normal times, my department and Bord Bia would lead at least one trade mission to China every year, and I am hopeful that an in-person trade mission to China will be possible before the end of this year.”

In relation to market access for Irish beef exports, which has been suspended since May of last year, Minister McConalogue emphasised that there is ongoing dialogue.

“My officials, through the Embassy of Ireland in Beijing, continue to engage positively with their Chinese counterparts with a view to reopening market access for Irish beef.

I very much hope that trade will resume soon, but we must recognise that the timing of that decision lies with the Chinese authorities.

Minister McConalogue also noted that both he and Minister Heydon had recently had a virtual meeting with China’s Ambassador to Ireland, Ambassador He, at which a number of market access and trade issues were raised.

In particular, Minister McConalogue stressed that he was anxious to see trade in Irish beef to China resume as soon as possible.

It was agreed that officials from both sides would continue to work closely to find a solution which would allow trade to restart, the minister added.

Minister Heydon also commented, stating: “China is a critical market for the Irish food industry, with growth driven by the reputation of Ireland as a safe and sustainable producer of high-quality food and drink.

In addition to dairy, meat and seafood, China is also showing promise as a market for Irish spirit drinks.

Last year, China and the EU signed an agreement to recognise and protect over 100 European Geographical Indications, including Irish Whiskey and Irish Cream liqueur.

“This agreement recognises the unique characteristics and exceptional quality of these Irish products and protects them from imitators,” he added.

Bord Bia CEO Tara McCarthy said: “This week Bord Bia hosted a business briefing on Driving Growth in China.

“Over 180 attendees participated to hear the latest consumer and market trends and to understand Bord Bia’s plans for the dairy, beef, seafood and alcohol sectors in the region.”