Northern Ireland looks set to be the main beneficiary of a multi- million pound UK dairy export deal with China.
The deal, estimated to be worth almost £250m over the next five years, was announced on Thursday by International Trade Secretary Liam Fox during a trade mission to Beijing.
China will now allow the import of UK dairy products, such as cheese and yoghurts, made with milk from third countries.
During a radio interview, Mr Fox said Lakeland Dairies could be one of the main beneficiaries of the new deal.
A spokesperson for Lakeland said they welcome any trade agreements which enhance the possibility of further export growth towards China.
He added: “Northern Ireland has excellent potential to supply high quality dairy products to meet increasing demand for dairy worldwide. Our Global Logistics Centre at Newtownards is also well equipped to support this requirement. The building block for all of this is the high quality milk sent to us for processing by our milk producers and which we make into a wide range of value added dairy foodservice products and food ingredients.”
The announcement has also been welcomed by Ulster Farmers’ Union dairy chairman, William Irvine.
He added: “The UFU welcomes any export trade arrangements that contributes towards the possibility of further access to the growing Chinese market. Northern Ireland has the potential and capability to supply high quality dairy products to such export markets and this particularly pertinent given the growth global dairy demand.
“Currently, we are considering the specifics of the deal and how to ensure the maximum benefit for local dairy farmers.”
Also welcoming the new trade deal, Ulster Unionist leader and the party’s agricultural spokesperson Robin Swann said China, with its population of 1.4bn people, is currently experiencing a surge in demand and consumption of dairy products.
He added: “Yet fortunately for the global dairy market, it simply has not got the capacity to meet that demand itself.
“Whilst China already is a major importer of British dairy products, the news that the UK will now also be able to export products containing third party milk is a major step forward and a sign of confidence for the local dairy market. The agreement is estimated to be worth £240 million over five years to the UK, and Northern Ireland will likely receive a good proportion of that.
“As we are little more than six months away from Brexit these major trade deals are worth their weight in gold.
“Dairy farmers and processors, especially those with a lot of movement back and forth across the Irish border, understandably are nervous about what the future may hold for them post Brexit. Deals therefore such as this Chinese agreement will come as a major relief to them.”
Commenting, DUP MEP Diane Dodds said she was delighted with the announcement that UK dairy companies, and in particular those firms from Northern Ireland, will have greater access to the Chinese market.
She added: “It is estimated that this deal is worth some £240m over the next five years and this is testament to work being carried out by the Government, local companies and farmers.
“Over the last number of months we have witnessed success on a number of fronts, including progress on access for beef to China. Greater access to this high value market and vast population can only be a positive for the agri-food sector. It is reported that Chinese demand for dairy products is growing by 20% every year, with shoppers linking dairy to nutrition and well-being.
“The DUP has always encouraged the Government to invest more money and resources into access to profitable new markets for the agri-food sector and we will continue to call for this. We want to see greater access to new markets for all sectors but in particular sheep meat and we will be lobbying the Government to do much more in this area,” added Mrs Dodds.
“Northern Ireland produce has a great brand delivering high quality, safe and traceable produce. It is imperative that we continue to build the Global Britain brand, opening new markets and realising the benefits of Brexit going forward.”