Chinese premier Li Keqiang has gone west for a taste of Irish farm life.
Mr Li, accompanied by a number of Chinese government ministers, began a two-day visit to Ireland by travelling to the beef and dairy farm of Cathal and Mary Garvey at Gortbrack, Ower, Headford, on the Galway-Mayo border.
The visit was arranged to mark the lifting of the ban on Irish beef by the Chinese government earlier this year.
China is the second biggest importer of Irish food exports after the EU, and Mr Li’s visit has already underscored the importance of the Chinese market for Irish producers. The Garvey farm is a member of Bord Bia’s Beef and Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme and the Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme.
The Chinese government places great emphasis on food safety and Mr Li was told in detail about the commitment that Irish farmers such as the Garveys had made to achieve the most demanding standards in sustainable production.
As part of its Origin Green programme, Bord Bia is carbon footprinting about 700 farms per week.
During a walk around the farm, the premier also had the chance to experience the characteristics of Ireland’s grass-based beef and dairy production systems on a farm where cows can graze from early February to end of November.
After the lifting of the ban on Irish beef exports a party of major Irish food exporters recently travelled to Shanghai for the China Food Fair in a bid to build further on Ireland`s growing trade there. Ireland is the first EU country to regain access to Chinese beef markets.
Bord Bia CEO Aidan Cotter described the decision of Mr Li and his government ministers to take in the farm visit as another important step in securing further market opportunities for Irish exporters. He said the value of Irish food and drink exports to China had increased tenfold over the last decade.
“China is our sixth largest export market overall, our second most important for dairy and pigmeat and growing market for our seafood,” said Mr Cotter.
“In 2014, international markets [those outside the EU] were the star performers in Irish food and drink exports achieving their fifth year of continuous growth.
“Almost one third were destined for Asia, of which almost two thirds were accounted for by China where exports increased by over 40% to reach €547m.”
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