Beef exports should feature in Ireland-China talks, says think tank

China’s second most powerful politician to meet Taoiseach for bilateral talks in Dublin on Wednesday

The head of an Ireland-Asia think tank has said he hopes the ban on beef exports to China will be on the table when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar hosts Chinese premier Li Qiang this week.

China’s second most powerful politician after President Xi Jinping will meet Mr Varadkar for bilateral talks in Dublin on Wednesday.

Beef exports from Ireland to China were suspended when a case of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) was discovered by Irish veterinary officials in November.

At the time, the Department of Agriculture said the case was detected as part of its “ongoing surveillance of ‘fallen’ animals at ‘knackeries’“.


It said tests carried out at the department’s Central Veterinary Research Laboratory confirmed the case of atypical BSE – the first time since 2020.

A department spokesman said the cow, which was more than 10 years old, did not enter the food or feed chain and there were no public health risks from the case.

While the identification of the case does not affect trade generally, the protocol with China requires exports to be suspended pending submission and assessment of the epidemiological report.

Chinese authorities will decide when exports can resume.

Martin Murray, the executive director of Asia Matters, said he is hoping the resumption of Irish beef exports is high on the agenda when the two leaders meet at Farmleigh House.

Mr Murray, whose organisation promotes business and cultural links between Ireland and Asian economies, welcomed the visit and said: “The talks between Mr Varadkar and Premier Li Qiang in Dublin will not only be a milestone event to drive business development, they will also provide a great opportunity to reopen the Chinese market to Irish beef.”

Ireland’s beef exports to China were worth almost €40 million in 2019.

Mr Murray said that Irish exports to China had soared to record levels following the last visit to Ireland by a high-ranking Chinese government official.

That was in 2012 when Mr Xi made a three-day trade visit when he was his country’s vice-president.

Mr Murray said: “China is now Ireland’s fourth largest trade partner, the fifth largest goods export market and the seventh largest service export destination.

“Since President Xi was here just over a decade ago, bilateral trade has significantly grown in Ireland’s favour from €3.7 billion in 2014 to a record €25.3 billion in 2022.

“Irish exports to China have significantly grown to €14 billion with the agri-food sector alone achieving €722 million in exports to China in 2022, an increase of 76 per cent over the last decade.”

At an Asia Matters conference in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, last October, the secretary general at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Declan Hughes, revealed that two-way trade between Ireland and Asia is worth €120 billion.

This figure was achieved two years ahead of schedule.

Mr Murray added: “Chinese investment in Ireland is almost €10 billion and has created 5,000 quality jobs, with TikTok alone employing almost 3,000 people.

Mr Li will visit Ireland after speaking at the opening ceremony of the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland.

He will be the first high-ranking Chinese government official to attend the annual gathering since Mr Xi in 2017.

Ireland was granted the World Organisation for Animal Health’s (WOAH) negligible risk status for BSE in 2021, which is the lowest risk rating available.

Atypical BSE is not notifiable to the WOAH.

The department said identification of this atypical BSE case does not affect Ireland’s risk rating for BSE.

A spokesman said Ireland’s BSE controls are “robust and effective and consistent with legal requirements and best international practice”.

He said the discovery of the case is proof of effective food and feed safety controls.

Ireland exports more than 90 per cent of the beef it produces and is reliant on the reputation of its food safety systems. – PA