This week has seen China’s Minister for agriculture visit Dublin to finalise a trade agreement that will allow Irish beef exports onto the Chinese market in the near future.
Meanwhile, here in Northern Ireland we remain light years away from securing a trade deal with the Chinese on pork – or so it would seem – never mind beef and other meats.
Access to the Chinese market for our produce must be a key part of the post-Brexit strategy put in place for Northern Ireland’s agri food sectors. The country has a fast growing demand for those meat products that would not secure a premium return in the UK, or the rest of Europe for that matter. So, in essence, it is a market that would allow our meat processors obtain a balanced return for the entire carcases coming off the kill lines in their premises. And this really would be a good news story for farmers.
Previous Stormont farm ministers have made repeated visits to China in an effort to culture strong trading relationships with that country. And, from what I can gather, this commitment was starting to pay off. However, the work has now come to a halt, given the difficulties that exist regarding the formation of a new Executive for Northern Ireland. And human nature being what it is, the Chinese have – no doubt -let Northern Ireland slip down its list of priorities.
In theory, London has ultimate control when it comes to settling all trade related matters concerning any region of the UK. But this should not stop Northern Ireland’s elected politicians having a proactive role in identifying those new markets that meet the needs of farming and food in this part of the world. They should also be part of the process which allows these new exporting opportunities to be secured.
As I understand it, Whitehall is very keen to facilitate the needs of the various devolved administrations across the UK, when it comes to setting trade policy. This is why it is so important to have a functioning Executive up and running at Stormont.
And the sooner this happens the better it will be for our farming and food industries.