Multi-million pound boost for Northern Ireland beef industry after China agrees access
Exports of Northern Ireland beef can now be sent to China after an agreement - potentially worth tens of millions of pounds to the industry here - was signed between the UK and China.
China has now granted market access to beef exporters by the end of 2019 -23 years after imports of beef from the UK were banned.
The UK-China Beef Protocol follows years of site inspections and engagement between British and Chinese government officials.
The move could be worth an estimated £230m for producers in the first five years alone, according to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).
The new access to China will be welcome news for beef farmers in Northern Ireland - many of whom have faced temptation to give up beef farming in favour of dairy farming, due to the rise in milk prices over the last few years.
Dr Robert Huey, chief veterinary officer for Northern Ireland, said: "The UK-China Beef protocol is a significant step in the journey towards the export of our high quality red meat to the growing marketplace within the People's Republic of China.
"It is a further boost for local meat exporters, coming on the back of the announcement earlier this year when Japan agreed to accept beef imports."
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But he added that China imposed "stringent" requirements on beef imports and that more work would be needed to make sure producers and processors benefit.
"My staff will continue to work closely with industry to help achieve the required controls and desired outcomes," he said.
Ian Stevenson, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Livestock & Meat Commission, said the protocol was good news.
"I am delighted by this announcement," he said.
"This presents a significant opportunity for our local industry as beef import demand into China continues to grow strongly with a six fold increase in imports recorded over the last 10 years."
The Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) also welcomed the protocol.
Beef and lamb chairman Sam Chesney said: "This is good news for the sector at a time of uncertainty. The Government needs to work as efficiently as possible with the industry so beef farmers on the ground see the benefit of this deal.
"However, it will take time to get the first consignment to sale."
He urged government to capitalise on the agreement.
"This is an opportunity for beef farmers in Northern Ireland to increase exports as a result of gaining direct access to the Chinese market," he said.
Northern Ireland's pork industry was given the green light to begin exports to China two years ago, with two slaughterhouses and two cold stores quickly given the go-ahead to send produce to the Asian nation.