Significant advances have been made in gaining access to the Chinese market for Irish sheepmeat, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has announced.

He and Minister Ni Yuefeng of the General Administration of Customs of China (GACC) have signed and exchanged formal protocols that will pave the way for the export of sheepmeat and breeding pigs from Ireland to China.

Average prices for imported sheepmeat in China have more than doubled over the last decade. Import prices in the first half of 2021 reached a record high, averaging €4.66/kg.

China accounts for 38% of the global sheepmeat import market. Last year, it imported 365,000t, valued at €1.47bn.

“The sheepmeat protocol that I have signed today represents an important milestone in gaining access to the Chinese market. China is a substantial importer of sheepmeat, with a positive outlook for demand in the long term,” Minister McConalogue said.

“I hope that, when the remaining steps are completed to enable trade to commence, exports will grow gradually over time, as Chinese consumers become familiar with the quality and taste of our Irish sheepmeat offering. This is a real mark of confidence in our sheep farmers who work so hard to produce a top-class product.”

This is a real mark of confidence in our sheep farmers who work so hard to produce a top-class product

Minister of State Martin Heydon, who has responsibility for new market development, said his department, in collaboration with the embassy of Ireland in Beijing, had pursued market access for sheepmeat with the Chinese authorities over a number of years.

“The agreement reached today follows on from a successful inspection of Irish plants by GACC auditors in August/September 2019,” said Heydon, adding that Bord Bia has already conducted market insight research on the Chinese sheepmeat market, and is doing preparatory work.

Next steps

A number of technical steps remain before the GACC can include the list of approved plants on its website, while the Department of Agriculture will have to put in place systems and safeguards to ensure compliance with protocol requirements on eligible product.

This is expected to take a number of months.

Breeding pigs

Minister McConalogue and Minister Ni also signed a protocol on live pigs, which sets out the quarantine and hygiene requirements for the export of high-quality breeding pigs to China.

“This agreement is a recognition of Ireland’s strong history of breeding and selling superior health status pigs to many overseas markets,” said Minister Heydon.

“The export of breeding pigs with economically important traits is a niche market opportunity. It reflects well on the breeding population developed by specialist Irish producers.”

Beef access

With Irish beef locked out of the Chinese market for more than a year now, the Department said its officials, through the embassy of Ireland in Beijing, continue to engage positively with their Chinese counterparts with a view to re-opening market access for Irish beef. However, the timing of that decision lies with the Chinese authorities.

Minister McConalogue said: “Regaining beef access to the Chinese market remains a priority. Our engagement on these protocols is encouraging in this regard, and I hope that the Chinese authorities will soon be in a position to make a positive decision to allow exports to resume.”