FITTINGLY a Chinese proverb best describes the opportunities, both academic and business, presented on my recent trip to China - Learning is like the horizon: there is no limit.
To see up close the emerging global world force that is China, was in itself a major industry and educational opportunity. But to be able to promote the exceptional quality of education, skills, research and innovation which our own agri-food and equine industry possess, was equally rewarding.
During the six-day visit I met with key players in the Chinese agri-food and equine sectors allowing me to highlight the quality and safety of the north of Ireland’s agri-food products, the underpinning scientific expertise and the excellent education and training available to our equine sector.
Pig exports from Ireland to China were discussed with the influential Mr Sun Lei, Director General, and Mrs Cao, Head of Trade Division in the Shanghai Municipal Agriculture Commission. The emerging horse industry was the focus of a very informative meeting with Professor Han, Vice-Chairman of the China Horse Industry Association and director of China Agricultural University’s (CAU) Equine Centre. And food safety, animal health and agri-economics were the emphasis of meetings in Beijing and Shanghai’s agricultural science academies.
Earlier this year Professor Han visited CAFRE’s Enniskillen Campus and it was pleasing to announce during my visit that students from the China Agricultural University will make a study tour to Enniskillen next year to participate in the skills sharing programme with CAFRE’s equine students.
A special plaque unveiling at the Joint Food Research Centres in Beijing’s Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) and the Shanghai Academy of Agricultural Sciences (SAAS) was one of the highlights of the visit. These Joint Food Research Centres cement long-standing links between the Agri-Food and Bio-Sciences Institute (AFBI) in Belfast and the Chinese Academies. I was also pleased to witness the signing of significant Agreements between AFBI and both of these internationally recognised institutes
The work already being undertaken between AFBI and these two leading research institutes is commendable indeed. These scientists, alongside our veterinarians, provide the evidence in terms of animal health assurances and robust food safety systems which underpin our global reputation for safe and wholesome food. High standards of animal health and livestock traceability are greatly assisted by the ‘Fortress Ireland’ approach, supported by both the north and south of Ireland, minimising the entry of disease to the island.
Much is to be gained from all of these new relationships with China, and a huge effort is still required on many fronts, including agreement on export status to China. My officials maintain close links with officials in DEFRA in Britain and DAFM in the South to ensure that we work together to benefit our industry in export market negotiation. An agreed process has been in place since May 2012 to allow exports of local pig meat to China and work is underway to achieve market access for beef. The prospect of agri-food products from the north of Ireland on the shelves of China’s supermarkets is something we will continue to strive for.
What was especially rewarding in this unique opportunity was to see the positive reaction of the Chinese academic and business community to what we have to offer, and I look forward to developing all of these opportunities.
As another Chinese proverb goes ... A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.