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Kildare Chilling is listed as potential beef exporter to China

Kildare Chilling is listed as potential beef exporter to China

Chinese food authorities are set to approve several Irish meat plants to export beef to China, opening up a potentially huge market within the next few days, according to the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed.

In January, China said it would lift its ban on British beef but farmers may have to wait years before receiving regulatory approval from Beijing; it took three years from lifting the ban on Irish beef for China to approve imports.

Ireland's agri-food exports to China have increased about five-fold from around 200 million euros ($247.73 million) in 2010 to almost $1.24 billion past year, which Creed said, "has been a remarkable achievement and underlines the importance of the Chinese market".

It's understood at least three beef factories here have been fully approved by the Chinese authorities and are the first European beef processors to gain access there.

Rising demand, combined with the expense of domestically produced meat, means China is looking overseas for its beef.

"Primarily it's a triumph for our beef farmers because they're producing quality", Minister Creed told RTÉ's Morning Ireland. Overall beef imports to China have increased from under 100,000 tonnes in 2012 to around 600,000 tonnes in 2016.

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The Irish agri-food trade exports to China reached €947 million past year, with the country representing the second-largest market for Irish dairy and pork, reaching €667 million and €100 million, respectively.

'We are now well-positioned and ready to maximise this significant opportunity for Irish beef exporters, ' CEO Tara McCarthy said, commenting that China is also Ireland's second largest market for dairy and pork, behind the UK. This has been a remarkable achievement and underlines the importance of the Chinese market.

The demand for meat products in China has grown rapidly in recent years, and the country now consumes one-quarter of the world's supply.

Mr Creed will lead a trade mission to China next month to consolidate Ireland's trading relationship with the Chinese government.

On average, Chinese beef consumption per capita is 4kg, compared to average Irish consumption of 19kg of beef per capita per year.

Dublin is hoping for approval for a further five plants, the report added.