Although China's total dairy imports between January and July 2015 were down 23% on the previous year, Chinese imports of some dairy products were higher, according to data from the Global Trade Information Services. This includes volumes of infant milk formula, which were up by 28% to 89,200t. With an export share worth 33%, the Netherlands was the biggest exporter of infant milk formula to China, which has a population of 1.357 billion, followed by Ireland in second place.

Imports of whey powder to China also rose, in this case to 248,200t (a rise of 3%), while cheese imports were up to 44,160t, an increase of 5% on last year.

Lower import demand

Whole milk powder (WMP) imports, however, were down 40% in July, compared with the year before, at 23,400t, while skimmed milk powder (SMP) imports were down 25% at 17,900t.

The lower import demand from China for these products has contributed to the massive slump in milk prices in recent months. The country has overstocked on dairy products, leading to a lower demand for imports. This problem is one of the issues to be discussed at the Farm Council in Brussels on 7 September, alongside the ramifications for many farm sectors of the ongoing Russian embargo.

Chinese students come to Ireland

In a meeting designed to encourage closer collaboration between China and Ireland, particularly with regard to their dairy industries, Alltech hosted a meeting between members of the Chinese dairy industry and leading figures in Irish agriculture on Tuesday 1 September. For the past several weeks, students from the China Agricultural University, Beijing, interned on Irish dairy farms to gain experience of Ireland’s unique grass-based dairy system, which stands in contrast to the Chinese housed method.

“Exciting opportunities are available for the Irish dairy industry in China,” said Kevin Tuck, managing director at Alltech Ireland. “While Chinese milk output has increased exponentially over the years, it will never be in a position to meet its population’s growing demand for dairy. Ireland is in a unique position to share its unfair advantage with the Chinese. By unfair advantage, I refer to our production surplus and proven commitment to sustainability with Bord Bia’s Origin Green programme.”

The meeting hosted Professor Li Shengli, the chief scientist for the Chinese dairy industry, for whom the visit was his first time on Irish soil.

Brendan Gleeson, Ireland’s deputy secretary general for the Department of Agriculture, addressed Ireland’s advantages, including its large food production surplus, score of zero in terms of water stress as measured by the FAO and commitment to food safety as set out in Food Wise 2025. “More Irish dairy product was exported to China in the first six months of this year compared with 2014,” said Gleeson.

“Three of the world’s leading infant formula manufacturers are located here in Ireland, which proves the confidence they have with Irish dairy. Adding value through research and development will insulate the industry from global market volatilities.”