China is the second-largest importer of beef worldwide. “We welcome the move in principle,” EU farm body Copa-Cogeca’s secretary general Pekka Pesonen told GlobalMeatNews.
But he warned the work to respond to last month’s decision would be challenging. “It is a decision that has not yet taken effect. China’s move follows similar action taken on Irish beef exports to China two years ago, but it takes time for this to take effect after veterinary inspections and so on.”
The ban was put in place on all EU countries in 2000 following the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis of the 1990s. With EU beef now deemed safe, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has said all bans and restrictions must be lifted as soon as possible. China still imposes formal beef export bans on all EU member states except Ireland, Hungary and now France, although it is considering opening up trade in beef with the Netherlands, the UK, Belgium and Italy.
Pesonen said he wanted “all remaining restrictions lifted on EU beef exports to China” and that conditions needed to change in China to help open up the market. “We recognise the opportunities for French livestock producers, but China still does not see the EU as a single entity when it comes to sanitary and phytosanitary inspections, which is an unfair approach,” he explained. “Chinese businesses can export to the 28 member states, while the 28 member states have to negotiate individual deals with China.
“Furthermore, when we look at the high safety standards and individual cattle traceability schemes applied in the EU and the poor market access the EU gets in comparison to Brazil, without such high standards, the EU must promote the high standards we have better,” added Pesonen. Should Beijing respond, as far as French and Irish beef was concerned, because of the EU’s high standards and quality schemes, the meat industry would target premium high-quality beef meat and offal for Chinese export sales, he added.
Emmanuel Bernard, vice-president of the Paris, France-based Fédération Nationale Bovine – FNB (part of the cattle and meat industry body ‘L’Association Nationale Interprofessionnelle du Bétail et des Viandes’ – INTERBEV) agreed. For Bernard, France’s advantage concerning offal was the country’s individual traceability in its slaughterhouses.
An FNB spokesperson told GlobalMeatNews that France must respect China’s sanitary standards and that the French meat industry had “the required guarantees” for this. “Secondly, we need to put forward French farming, which has a large variety of cattle at its disposal and rearing methods that meet Chinese customers’ expectations,” the FNB said.
The FNB highlighted that on 28 February, INTERBEV launched the ‘FRENCH BEEF, a taste of terroirs’ [the country] label at the International Salon of Agriculture “to boost the reputation of French beef abroad”.
Pesonen and Bernard said it was “premature” to give the quantities or destination of the French beef entering China, but Bernard predicted volumes “will certainly be quite small as the Chinese market is very competitive and segmented – with Australia and New Zealand dominating the high-end sector”. “High-end catering and restaurant chains will be targeted. And e-commerce in China will be an essential issue for the future.”