Firms on verge of export deals with China for pork products
Opening the Chinese market to exported pork products from Northern Ireland could be worth up to £10m a year to the industry here, it's been claimed.
Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill said two pork plants, - Cookstown sausage owner Karro and Dunbia in Dungannon - had now won provisional approval to send their products to China.
In April this year, inspectors from China travelled to the Karro and Dunbia plants to check if the facilities there could meet Chinese high standards.
But that came after three years of visits from the minister to build a relationship, so that the safety demands of the Certification and Accreditation Administration of the People's Republic of China could eventually be met.
The first overtures were made by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in 2010.
The estimated worth of between £5m and £10m is based on the potential of both Dunbia and Karro to export pig parts to China.
Stuart Dobson, head of Elmgrove Foods, which is part of Dunbia and a specialist in fifth quarter animal products, said he had already started looking for two new members of staff to help it prepare for anticipated demand in China.
And he is also visiting Japan in a bid to seek approval there for his company's pork products.
Elmgrove processes offal products such as kidney, liver, trotters and sweetbreads, which are considered a delicacy in the Far East, Africa and the Caribbean.
Mr Dobson said that he hoped the firm could make its first shipments to China in March next year though the company still has to register on Chinese government import lists.
But he said Japan had even stricter paperwork requirements. "I will be adding another member of staff for paperwork by Feb 2016 to allow for this," he said.
Di Walker, executive chair of Karro Food Group, said: "Karro Food Group is pleased that Northern Ireland pork has been provisionally approved for export to China.
"We have made significant investment at our site in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, as part of our preparations for further international trade to China and other markets.
"We expect this development to have both a positive impact on our business and also with our pig farming partners.
"We are hopeful of obtaining final approval shortly."
Pork will be the first meat stuff to be exported to China from Northern Ireland.
However, porcine semen as well as pig hides and skins are already sent there.
Michelle O'Neill said that gaining access to China was a "major boost" for the industry in Northern Ireland.
"It will also provide lasting long term benefits to the wider agri-food sector and to the economy of the north as a whole."
And she said that she hoped the approval could be extended to pig products, such as trotters, "which are not readily consumable on the domestic market".
"This will add value to the carcase for producers and processors alike," the minister said.
"I, and my department, continue to invest much time and energy into opening new markets to expand the agri-food industry in the north and I look forward to making more positive announcements on market opportunities in the future."