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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Irish sheepmeat and breeding pigs one step closer to accessing Chinese market   

“Significant advances” have been made in gaining access to the Chinese market for Irish sheepmeat.

That is according to Minister Charlie McConalogue, who, along with Minister NI of the General Administration of Customs of China (GACC), signed and exchanged formal protocols that will “pave the way” for the export of sheepmeat and breeding pigs from Ireland to China.

China accounts for 38% of the global sheepmeat import market. In 2020, China’s sheepmeat imports amounted to 365,000 tonnes and were valued at €1.47bn at current exchange rates.

Imports account for 8% of total sheep meat consumed in China, and the supply gap is growing annually.

Average prices for imported sheep meat in China have more than doubled over the last decade. Furthermore, import prices in the first half of 2021 reached a record high, averaging €4.66/kg.

Irish sheepmeat to China

Minister McConalogue said: “The sheepmeat protocol that I have signed represents an important milestone in gaining access to the Chinese market.”

He said China is a “substantial” importer of sheep meat, with a positive outlook for demand in the long-term.

“I expect 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.”

Process could take months

Minister of State Martin Heydon TD, who has responsibility for new market development, said:

“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.”

He said the agreement follows on from a successful inspection of Irish plants by GACC auditors in August / 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.”

Several technical steps remain before GACC can include the list of approved plants on its website.

In addition, before trade can commence, DAFM will have to implement systems and safeguards to ensure compliance with protocol requirements on the eligible product.

According to the statement from the DAFM, this may take several months.

Breeding pigs

Minister McConalogue and Minister NI also signed a protocol on live pigs. It sets out the quarantine and hygiene requirements to export high-quality breeding pigs to China.

Minster Heydon views the agreement as 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.”

Beef access

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, the timing of that decision lies with the Chinese authorities, the DAFM stated.

Minister McConalogue commented: “Regaining beef access to the Chinese market remains a priority.”

“Our engagement on these protocols is encouraging in this regard. I hope that the Chinese authorities will soon be in a position to make a positive decision to allow exports to resume.”

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