The UK beef industry has welcomed the news this week of the signing of the UK-China Beef Protocol by Farming Minister, Robert Goodwill and Chinese Ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming.
The agreement, which was signed as part of the tenth Economic and Financial Dialogue (EFD) between the UK and China, will secure market access for UK beef exporters by the end of this year.
Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland (LMC) Chief Executive, Ian Stevenson said the signing of the Protocol is the culmination of several years of site inspections and engagement between the UK and Chinese government officials.
It also follows a successful inspection of beef sector controls across the UK which concluded last week.
He added: “Gaining this direct access to the Chinese market is extremely positive and will allow our beef export business to actively pursue new opportunities in this rapidly growing market for our high quality, safe and certified beef industry.
“Beef import into China continues to grow strongly with a six fold increase in imports recorded over the last 10 years and imports in 2019 are forecast to be approximately three million tonnes carcase weight equivalent as domestic consumption growth is met by import growth.
“Although Chinese beef imports are largely composed of frozen beef, cattle offals have become a very significant segment of the import mix.
“The Northern Ireland red meat industry has been growing its export volumes of beef to the Asian region and Hong Kong has served as an important outlet for carcase balance in recent years.”
Ulster Unionist Agriculture Spokesperson Robin Swann MLA commented: “This is a hugely significant development and I would applaud the officials in both DEFRA and DAERA, as well as countless primary producers and processors across the UK, for working so diligently and swiftly with the Chinese authorities.
“China, with its population of 1.4bn people, represents the world’s fastest growing beef market and is heavily dependent on imports to meet spiralling demand for protein products.
“This latest breakthrough for our exports market also comes less than a year after China announced that it was also allowing the import of UK dairy products, such as cheese and yogurts, that are made with milk from third countries.”
UFU beef and lamb chairman Sam Chesney said: “This is good news for the sector at a time of uncertainty.
“The government needs to work as efficiently as possible with the industry so beef farmers on the ground see the benefit of this deal.
“However, it will take time to get the first consignment to sale.
“This is an opportunity for beef farmers in Northern Ireland to increase exports as a result of gaining direct access to the Chinese market,” he added.