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Northern Ireland pork producers to miss out on region’s trade mission to China

By Rachel Martin

Northern Ireland’s pork firms are set to miss out on the chance to meet Chinese buyers just weeks after being given the go-ahead to export to the economic giant, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

On Friday, it was announced that China had given the green light to allow British pork products to enter the country for the first time.

However, it will be too late for firms here to apply to take part in the next Invest NI trade mission to the world’s most populated country from October 16 to 20.

Applications for the trip which visits Beijing and Shanghai, China’s two largest cities, closed on July 7.

As a result, no pork firms from the region have signed up for the trip, missing out on the opportunity to capitalise on the deal.

However, one Northern Ireland firm says the deal will put a squeeze on smaller pork firms with rising pork prices likely.

The pig meat industry in Northern Ireland supports more than 400 farming families and 2,000 jobs. It’s thought the deal could be worth up to £10m a year to the region’s economy. And across the UK, it’s been claimed the deal with will bring a £200m boost to the country’s food industry helping to support 1,500 jobs.

The deal has given Cookstown’s Karro and Cranswick’s plant in Ballymena approval to export.

The Ulster Farmers’ Union said securing access to the Chinese pork market is a “big win” for the industry.

The UFU’s pork and bacon chairman, Norman Robson, said access to China would ultimately “add value to carcases”, and said he looked forward to seeing the first exports in the near future.

“The Chinese market has the potential to offer significant long-term demand for pork products.  Access to this market should boost returns for processors. Farmers will now look forward to seeing this added value distributed fairly along the supply chain,” he said.

However, a spokeswoman for Invest NI confirmed it was too late for Northern Ireland pork firms to apply for the upcoming trade mission, despite the announcement coming more than two months before the trip.

“The China trade mission in October was open to all businesses across all sectors,” she said. “While on this occasion no food companies applied to attend, they (including pork companies) have participated in past trade missions.

“Invest NI is working closely with the food sector in their efforts to access the Chinese market and will continue to support their future plans. This will include support from our in-market team in China to help develop business relationships.”

Pork firm Pinkertons which supplies foodservice and wholesale markets here said that the announcement would cause local pork prices to rise, putting a squeeze on smaller processing firms.

The Co Armagh firm employs 34 people and exports a small amount of pork to the Republic of Ireland, mainly servicing the hospitality and retail sectors.

It already sells by-products such as trotters locally through butchers.

“There’s very little waste with our product,” director David Gibson said. “We find these parts are popular with foreign nationals living in Northern Ireland and we sell them through butchers.

“We sell most of our products within Northern Ireland. If the larger firms start to push exports it will mean we will have to pay more to buy pork from producers. It will eventually push the price up for consumers and local companies here who are too small to export will suffer. Cheaper European imports will start to come in to fill the gap.”

It’s expected to be at least four weeks before any pork products are shipped from Northern Ireland, but producers can start to pack their products now for the Chinese market.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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