It is now a year since Ireland suspended beef exports to China following the discovery of an atypical case of BSE.
Being an atypical case, it had no implications for Ireland’s BSE status, but the protocol agreed with China decreed that in the event of discovering a case, Ireland would notify China and suspend exports pending investigation.
The procedures were followed, Ireland answered the Chinese queries, but have now been waiting several months for the green light to resume exports.
Numerous political interventions have been made, right the way up to the Taoiseach, but to no avail.
It is ironic that during this suspension, Ireland has been granted negligible risk status by OIE, the world animal health organisation that monitors animal diseases globally.
This is the highest possible BSE status any country can achieve and should be the springboard for a complete return to normality more than two decades after BSE caused such disruption in the global beef trade.
This caused Ireland in particular disproportionate disruption.
Ideal time to offer supplies to China
It should also be the ideal time for offering supply to China.
Its demand for imported beef continues to increase, though at a slower pace than over the past decade.
Also, its second-largest supplier Argentina last week announced a 30-day ban on beef exports.
In the first quarter of 2021, Argentina accounted for 139,312t of the 617,000t of beef China imported in that period, almost one quarter.
That has to leave a serious gap in the supply chain and there is no guarantee the export ban will last only 30 days.
In 2006, the then-Argentinian government announced a six-month ban which lasted almost 10 years.
There is also the issue of Australia. Despite China importing over 100,000t more beef in the first quarter of 2021, the volume from Australia was just 44,000t, half of what it was in the first quarter of 2020.
There are a combination of explanations for this – Australian beef supply is at a 20-year low because of herd rebuilding, four large suppliers are suspended and there is political tension between the governments.
All of this should combine to hasten the return of Ireland as a supplier, particularly as we have so many factories approved and we could become a significant volume supplier almost immediately.
There has been a significant re-entrant in the past year since Ireland’s departure.
Re-emergence of US
Up until the last year of the Trump presidency, the US and China were locked in a trade war, started by the US.
Then, in January 2020, President Trump reached a deal with China and US exports resumed in volume.
Pigmeat was to the forefront, but the US has also supplied a large quantity of beef – 19,775t in the first quarter, compared with less than 3,000t in the same period last year.
The question - to which there appears to be no answer - is why is Ireland still excluded?
We have just secured negligible risk status with OIE and we are assured by DAFM that any queries raised by the Chinese have been addressed.
If anything, we might have been expecting extension of the Irish approval to include bone-in and over-30-month beef, but, at this point, Irish farmers and exporters would settle for getting back to where we were.