Chinese buyers remain “very keen” to work with Irish meat companies and will resume taking beef from Ireland once the current export problems are resolved, Bord Bia has maintained.

Irish beef exports to China were suspended for the second time in three years recently, following a case of atypical BSE.

Despite this latest setback, Bord Bia insisted that Chinese buyers remained open to taking Irish beef.

“Our customers in China have an overwhelmingly positive perception of Ireland’s official controls, regarding food safety, traceability and quality,” explained Declan Saruwatari, meat market specialist in Bord Bia’s Shanghai office.

“We have been able to re-enforce this message through the [recent] trade mission, various knowledge-transfer events and several inward buyer visits this year,” he added.

“Early conversations we have had with customers since last week’s announcement have been constructive and understanding.

"They remain very keen for information on when imports of Irish beef can resume again, and are looking forward to promoting it again within their businesses as soon as access is restored,” Saruwatari said.

Beef exports to China

Ireland exported close to 10,300t of beef to China in 2019 and over 6,500t in the early part of 2020 before being suspended.

However, beef exports to China for the period up to the end of August stood at just 2,700t. Saruwatari said the drop in Irish exports was not reflective of a reluctance on the part of Chinese buyers to re-engage with Ireland.

“The lower volumes exported are as a direct impact of the prevailing market environment, whereby there are currently relatively high stocks of beef available in China at competitive prices,” he said.

Although a number of the 24 Irish sites approved for China had not resumed supplying the Asian powerhouse after the two-and-a-half-year suspension was lifted last January, a senior beef industry figure maintained that it remained a crucial market.

“Looking at it in pure black and white, you’d have to say that exporting to China just doesn’t make sense; but there’s a kudos in being approved for China, and doing business there is a very good way to fly the flag,” he said.

‘Never say no’

“And anyway, you never say ‘no’ to a market. You might not always get to move the value cuts, but sometimes markets like China offer another avenue to move other stuff,” he added.

Irish beef exports to China recently comprised a small number of forequarter cuts –including shin, rib fingers and boneless short rib, or Karubi – which are all popular items in traditional Chinese cuisine, such as for “hotpot” restaurants, Bord Bia explained.