Bri­tish farm­ers eye do­mes­tic beef mar­ket

China Daily (Canada) - - BUSINESS - By AN­GUS MCNE­ICE in Lon­don an­gus@mail.chi­nadai­

Plans to re­verse China’s ban on Bri­tish beef could be “trans­for­ma­tional” for United King­dom agri­cul­ture and gen­er­ate 250 mil­lion pounds ($350 mil­lion), ac­cord­ing to a lead­ing farm­ing in­dus­try body.

Last month, China an­nounced plans to lift a 22-year ban on Bri­tish beef im­ports, in­tro­duced af­ter an out­break of bovine spongi­form en­cephalopa­thy, com­monly known as BSE or “mad cow dis­ease”.

UK meat pro­ces­sors are pre­par­ing to wel­come Chi­nese in­spec­tors in April, who want to see if farm­ing and pro­duc­tion stan­dards have im­proved suf­fi­ciently.

“For the beef sec­tor and Bri­tish agri­cul­ture, this is trans­for­ma­tional,” said Jane King, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Agri­cul­ture and Hor­ti­cul­ture Devel­op­ment Board, or the AHDB. “By get­ting the beef ban lifted, we reckon it would be worth around 250 mil­lion pounds over a five-year pe­riod.”

King ac­com­pa­nied Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May on her Jan­uary visit to China, when lift­ing the ban was dis­cussed.

“... My big play was to make sure that the prime min­is­ter was aware of how im­por­tant get­ting Bri­tish beef into the Chi­nese mar­ket could be,” she ex­plained.

Bri­tish beef ex­ports halted in 1996 due to an out­break of BSE, a fa­tal neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­ease that can spread from cat­tle to hu­mans. It led to the deaths of 180,000 cows and more than 150 peo­ple in Bri­tain.

The Euro­pean Union lifted its ban on Bri­tish beef in 2006, with the United States fol­low­ing in 2016. Re­vers­ing the China ban will give Bri­tish farm­ers ac­cess to one of the world’s fastest-grow­ing mar­kets.

In 2016, China be­came world’s sec­ond-largest the beef im­porter be­hind the US, im­port­ing 800,000 met­ric tons worth $2.6 bil­lion. Chi­nese reliance on im­ports grew in 2017, when beef con­sump­tion rose by 4 per­cent, out­strip­ping do­mes­tic pro­duc­tion, which in­creased by just 1 per­cent.

More than 90 per­cent of Bri­tish beef ex­ports are to other Euro­pean Union coun­tries. How­ever, nonEU mar­kets are grow­ing. In the first half of 2017, non-EU ex­ports rose 62 per­cent to to­tal 23.5 mil­lion pounds.

Phil Hadley, in­ter­na­tional mar­ket devel­op­ment di­rec­tor at the AHDB, said that China pro­vides a new mar­ket for premium beef as well as “fifth quar­ter” cuts, in­clud­ing of­fal, which are no longer pop­u­lar in the UK.

“We see the mar­ket in China as be­ing an op­por­tu­nity on one hand for the lower value of­fal-type prod­ucts, and on the other hand premium prod­uct go­ing into high-end restau­rants and ho­tels. There is a grow­ing ap­petite for beef among Chi­nese con­sumers, it’s served far more widely,” said Hadley.

“The Asian mar­ket­place pays markedly higher prices for fifth quar­ter cuts than some of our mar­kets in Europe. So the net ef­fect is an up­lift in value of those parts, which is spread along the sup­ply chain.”

UK farm­ing’s next chal­lenge, he added, is to ex­port lamb to China, which cur­rently does not ac­cept Bri­tish sheep prod­ucts. The UK is the world’s third-largest sheep pro­ducer, be­hind Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

“Open­ing new mar­kets will mit­i­gate some of the po­ten­tial trade dis­rup­tions we may face in a postBrexit world,” Hadley said. “And we know what an im­pact the China mar­ket can have from our ex­pe­ri­ences with pork.”

Last Novem­ber, two North­ern Ir­ish com­pa­nies gained ap­proval to ex­port pig trot­ters to China in a deal that could gen­er­ate 20 mil­lion pounds a year.

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