Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed has announced that the Chinese market has been opened to Irish beef, with three factories fully approved by the Chinese authorities and there are hopes that five more, including Kildare Chilling, will follow.
Both China and the USA had banned imports of beef from the European Union in 2000 due to fears over BSE (mad cow disease).
"Our agri-food exports to China have increased roughly five-fold from around €200 million in 2010 to almost €1 billion previous year", Minister Creed said.
Minister Creed said that despite the long and "exacting" process of gaining approval by the Chinese authorities, it represented a "powerful endorsement of Ireland's high standards by the Chinese administration".
"The opening of this key market presents an excellent opportunity for the Irish beef sector, from farmers through to processors".
MII's Cormac Healy said the first group of plants was expected to be in a position to begin trade with China in the very near future.
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"Primarily it's a triumph for our beef farmers because they're producing quality", Minister Creed told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.
Continuing, Minister Creed explained that the push to gain market access to China was part of his department's Brexit strategy given that over 50% - or in excess of 250,000t - of Irish beef exports go into the United Kingdom market. While average per capita beef consumption in China is still low at 4kg, compared to 19kg in Ireland, the market for premium imported beef is on the rise.
The Irish agri-food trade exports to China reached €947 million a year ago, with the country representing the second-largest market for Irish dairy and pork, reaching €667 million and €100 million, respectively.
Irish Farmers" Association president Joe Healy also welcomed the news but said it is key that the agreement delivers higher margins to farmers and that terms and conditions attached to market access are not "overly stringent'.
Although annual per capita beef consumption in China is now 4-6kg, compared to 19kg in Ireland.
He is due to lead a trade mission to China in May to further build on relations and push for the approval of five more beef plants, which have applied for access but have not yet been approved. On Thursday (April 12th), the buyers will join 185 Irish food and drink buyers at the Convention Centre Dublin for a major one-to- one business development event involving 5,000 pre-scheduled Ôspeed- datingÕ style meetings.