16. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on the significance of the opening of the Chinese market to Irish beef, particularly in the context of Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 18266/18 asked on 26 Apr 2018)
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Michael Creed): The recent opening of the Chinese beef market to Irish beef is hugely significant for the Irish beef industry, all along the chain from farmers through to processors and exporters. It marks the culmination of a number of years work involving my Department, the Irish Embassy in Beijing and with the close co-operation of the Chinese Ambassador in Dublin and his Embassy staff, Bord Bia, and the industry itself.
My Department has developed a deep understanding of Chinese requirements based on a series of inward and outward trade missions, inspection visits and bilateral contacts between the relevant officials.
However, I am not going to put a figure on how much beef Ireland will export to China. The role of my Department is to open the door to allow trade to commence. I hope that Irish beef companies will follow the success we have already had in finding Chinese markets for dairy, pigmeat and seafood products. Trade in these commodities has developed over the years from a low base. Dairy exports to China reached €667 million and pigmeat exports were over €100 million in 2017. For both of these commodities China was our second largest export destination after the United Kingdom
Within the last 30 years Chinese demand for meat has quadrupled, and the country now consumes one quarter of the world’s meat supply. Total beef imports to China were around 600,000 tonnes in 2016. That is more than Ireland’s total beef exports to all markets last year (550,000 tonnes).
There is an estimated middle class in China of around 300 million people and a rising demand for meat. In particular, there is potential for further growth in consumer demand for beef, driven by increasing urbanisation, higher disposable incomes and health awareness.
My officials continue to work towards opening and enhancing access to as many markets as possible. This is a key part of our response to the challenges and uncertainty posed by Brexit, and in line with the market development theme of the Food Wise 2025 strategy. A wide range of staff across my Department are involved in market access work which is co-ordinated by an internal High-Level Market Access Committee, chaired at Assistant Secretary General level.