Frequent warnings by health experts about the dangers of too much red meat are likely to fall upon deaf ears where Irish exports are concerned.
At a time when the economy continues to exhibit jitters around Brexit and global financial turbulence, the news last week that Irish beef exports to China are expected to reach 30,000 tonnes will surely be taken as seasonal glad tidings for 2020 and beyond.
At the FHC Trade Show in Shanghai, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed and Bord Bia chief executive Tara McCarthy announced a new retailpromotion with Chinese online meat and frozen food retailer JD.com, China’s second-largest online platform with 320m customers.
Ireland only commenced beef exports to China less than two years ago, andresearch indicates that the €9m achieved in 2018 will grow to €120m by the end of next year.
In a potentially huge market where demand continues to grow, Ms McCarthy is confident that China’s “immense and constant” market will become a major destination for Irish beef into the future, generating potential annual volumes of 30,000 tonnes.
Given that food safety and provenance are key consumption drivers in China, Bord Bia’s Quality and Sustainability Assurance schemes provide the Government-approved standards required to promote trust. Underlining the strategic importance of the region to the Irish food and drink industry, Bord Bia completed over 500 hours ofresearch to identify the most profitable route to market for Irish producers.
At the end of October, the Chinese government’s General Administration of Customs published a list of Irish meat-processing facilities that have been approved for export, following an inspection trip by their inspectors,giving the green light for Irish beef to enter its vast market.
Indeed, such is China’s growing need for meat imports that Ireland is not alone in gaining recent entry to itsmarket, with expanded access also granted to Brazil, Argentina, andUruguay over recent months. With its long-established trade ties to China, Australia also figures prominently as a meat exporter.
A recent report by Rabobank,‘Opportunities for Growth in Australian grain-fed Beef’, predicted the prospect of tripling the nation’s exports of beef to China by 2030. Continued growth in beef consumption across Asia, along with Australia’s strong market access and competitive supply chain, will provide the opportunity for the nation’s total beef exports to increase 65% to more than 500,000 tonnes by 2030, according to the research.
“Rabobank believes there will be strong growth in the global demand for grain-fed beef, fuelled principally by China,” said Rabobank senior animal proteins analyst, Angus Gidley-Baird.
While acknowledging Australia’s strong position to capture a sizeable portion of the growing demand, the report pertinently concludes of the market: “There will be enough room for everyone.”
The enormous economic transformation in China since the early 1990s has seen a massive transfer of rural populations into the country’s ever-expanding urban centres, with cities like Chengdu, Shenzhen, Yangzhou and Nantong recording a similar expansion as Shanghai and Beijing.
Thirty years ago, 25% of people lived in cities, and more than doubled to 57% by 2016. Along with the changes came an alteration in consumer habits, most notably in the demand for meat.
The emergence of a growing middle class has prompted varying degrees of Westernisation across the Chinese lifestyle - most especially its diet. In 1980, the average Chinese ate less than 15 kilos of meat annually, a figure that has now risen.
China now consumes almost 30% of the world’s meat, a share that is double that of the US. Milk and dairy consumption quadrupled from 1995 to 2010, with processed foods increasing by two-thirds from 2008 to 2016. Ireland’s total agri-food exports to China in 2018 amounted to almost €800m, according to CSO trade statistics. Dairy products accounted for €541m, with the export value of pigmeat increasing to €77m last year.
In a further initiative that will benefit Irish exports, the EU Commission has announced it will co-fund a three-year Bord Bia campaign promoting European pork and poultry in China and Mexico. The commission will cover most of the cost of the €3.8m due to commence in early 2020 and targeting a combined population of 1.5bn.
China is now Ireland’s second-largest export market for pigmeat, with exports standing at over €93m for the first eight months of this year. Similarly, market access to Mexico for Irish pigmeat exports could provide niche opportunities in a market that imports 1.3m tonnes annually.
At a reception at the Chinese embassy in Dublin in June to celebrate the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Ireland,ambassador He Xiangdong said that the two countries have created “a model for win-win co-operation and shared prosperity”.
“Sharing opportunities and confronting challenges together, we could shape a more closely and friendly China-Ireland relations in the new era,” he said. It is a message that will find fulsome agreement within Ireland’s agri industry.