All avenues to resume market access for beef exports to the Chinese market are being exhausted according to assistant secretary at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Sinead McPhillips.

Speaking at last week’s Bord Bia Meat Market Seminar, McPhillips said: “Having opened the market in April 2018, it is undoubtedly disappointing that Irish beef exports have been suspended since May 2020 when an atypical BSE case occurred.

"As you will be aware, this case had no food safety or traceability implications and indeed Ireland has since been granted negligible risk status for BSE by the OIE, the world animal health organisation.

"I want to reiterate that the resumption of Irish beef exports to China remains a top priority for the Department. Intensive efforts to reopen the market have been made at official, technical, diplomatic and political levels.”

Ongoing contact

McPhillips said that while everything is being done that can be done, ultimately the decision to resume exports lies with the Chinese government.

“There is ongoing contact with the Chinese side on the matter, but it must be recognised that the timing of the decision to resume trade remains a matter for the Chinese authorities.

"I should also point out that we continue to have very constructive engagement with the Chinese authorities on other market access issues including in relation to dairy products and of course sheepmeat.”

There has been no update reported on sheepmeat access since the initial announcement

There has been no update reported on sheepmeat access since the initial announcement.

“Last September, Minister McConalogue and Minister Ni signed formal protocols on the requirements for eligible product, which will pave the way when a number of further technical steps are completed for the export of Irish sheepmeat to China to commence”.

Priority markets for 2022

Regarding the Department’s agenda for trade missions in 2022, McPhillips said: “As Minister McConalogue announced this week, our trade mission agenda for 2022 is planned around the following priority markets.

"In February, just in a few weeks, Minister McConalogue, along with Minister for State Martin Heydon, will lead a trade mission to the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

"In April, there will be a trade mission to the US and Mexico and for the autumn and winter a number of trade missions are planned to key Asian markets.”

It is hoped that the above trade missions will take place in person, but this will depend on the prevailing pandemic conditions at the time of each mission and the format of each will be adopted to suit.

It was highlighted that Bord Bia had developed a successful platform for carrying out virtual trade missions and that this would be utilised if required.

Securing market access

The coronavirus pandemic has led to significant complications in trying to progress access to new markets or build on existing access in other markets.

“The Department has invested considerable resources, particularly since the Brexit vote in 2016, in achieving maintaining and improving market access to new international markets, particularly for meat exports.

"That process can be detailed and painstaking and at times frustrating, but we must recognise that the importing country sets the requirements, sets the pace of negotiations and ultimately makes the decisions in terms of granting market access.

"The barriers to travel during the pandemic have impacted to some extent on that work. For example, by delaying inward inspection and audit visits in some cases and making outward technical missions difficult.”

Major help

The role of agricultural attachés was singled out in this regard as being a major help in progressing and maintaining market access.

“Increasing the number of agricultural attachés in key markets has also paid dividends in international markets such as Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Washington DC, Mexico City and Abu Dhabi.”

These attachés, she says, have been able to stay in contact with important officials and have facilitated some very important technical engagements with the Department.