Opinion

We must convert the real potential of the Chinese market for Irish beef

Securing access to the Chinese market is a tremendous achievement for the Irish beef industry. But, in truth, it will be a hollow victory if we do not succeed in converting this tremendous potential into real sales.

A mere three years ago, all the plaudits were directed at Bord Bia and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) when it was announced that Irish beef could be exported to the US.

But since then, very little has been achieved in terms of developing this market as a genuine outlet that will help deliver sustainable returns for livestock farmers in this country.

In part, this is a result of the lukewarm response of the factories to the challenge of developing the American market. Selling into the UK remains the easy option.

But this cannot be guaranteed if Brexit goes the wrong way for Ireland.

I totally buy into the potential for selling Irish food products into China. The country has a fast-growing population, within which the rise of the middle classes is taking effect at a ferocious rate.

I also accept the point of view that the Chinese want to include more, high-class animal protein in their diets.

And it’s in this context that Irish food companies, across the board, can – and should be – doing more business with China.

Achieving this will require ongoing, high-profile marketing; plus a diplomatic push on the part of Bord Bia, the meat plants and the Government.

We didn’t do this when it came to following-up on the opportunities presented by the US – and the results achieved to date confirm this.

If anything, China will be a more difficult market to approach.

In the first instance, there are major cultural and language differences to overcome. But these are far from insurmountable.

The other bit of good news for the beef industry is the fact that the Irish dairy and pork sectors have grown sales to China at an exponential level over the past number of years. So surely, this is a trend which its red meat colleagues can piggy back on during the period ahead.

Making real inroads for Irish beef in China will mean striking the iron while it’s hot.

The recent news announcement is, no doubt, resonating within the Chinese food sector. So now is the time for Ireland’s beef operators to focus on the tremendous potential that China represents and to make a genuine effort now in order to forge sustainable trading links with that country.