Speaking at the conference, the Taoiseach said the news is highly significant for the Irish beef industry.

"China, with its 1.35 billion people is the biggest individual market in the world," he said. "While China has formally lifted its ban on Irish beef, the next step will require a Chinese veterinary inspection to approve individual processing plants for export."

All European beef imports were banned by China in 2000 after the BSE outbreak. Ireland is the first country to make this breakthrough in both the US and Chinese markets. It is believed that the Chinese market could potentially be more lucrative.

"Added to the success of gaining access to the Japanese market over a year ago, it is a massive endorsement of Ireland’s agricultural sector, our farmers, and the food they produce," said the Taoiseach. "A great deal of credit goes to Minister Coveney and the Irish agriculture sector for achieving so much so quickly."

There has been talk of the ban being lifted for the past year, with a number of trade missions working towards this deal.

Minister Coveney said that this was a massive step forward for the Irish beef industry.

“This announcement follows on intensive political, technical and diplomatic engagement with the Chinese authorities over several years," he said.

"We made a significant breakthrough last November when I led a major trade mission to China, involving Irish leading beef companies. My Chinese Agriculture counterpart Minister Han Changfu and his colleague Minister Shi Zhuping, who is responsible for Inspection and Quarantine, agreed at that time to send a veterinary inspection team to Ireland. This inspection followed last December, and the Irish food safety control system passed with flying colours."

The Chinese agricultural minster is visiting Ireland in May and Minister Coveney is expected to visit the country later in the year. The value of agri food exports from Ireland to China (including Hong Kong) last year amounted to almost €620m according to CSO trade statistics.

An emerging middle class in China is leading the demand for imported beef. Imports are expected to rise to over 750,000 tonnes by 2023, only accounting for approximately 3% of China’s meat consumption.

Next move

In the coming weeks a group representing China’s top buying companies will visit Ireland to see beef and sheep meat export plants. They will also participate in Bord Bia's Marketplace International event on the 26 March in Dublin.

Aidan Cotter, Chief Executive of Bord Bia, said this is a major boost for Irish exports to China.

"The Chinese consumer preference for cuts less in demand on European markets will provide a complementary export outlet that maximises overall returns to Irish producers and processors," he said.

"This welcome development points to a bright future for meat exports to the region and Bord Bia, through our Shanghai office, will work closely with exporters to fully exploit the region`s potential."