China to end decades-old UK beef ban in six months

By Oscar Rousseau

- Last updated on GMT

UK Prime Minister Theresa May hailed the golden era of Chinese relations. Image courtesy of Arno Mikkor
UK Prime Minister Theresa May hailed the golden era of Chinese relations. Image courtesy of Arno Mikkor

Related tags Uk beef exports Bovine spongiform encephalopathy Beef

UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s bilateral meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping has secured a major breakthrough for the meat industry: China will drop its British beef export ban within six months.

In what has been described as a golden era of UK-China relations, a multi-million pound agreement to lift a ban on UK beef exports to China has been struck.

China banned exports of British beef more than 20 years ago due to an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), colloquially known as mad cow’s disease.

China could lift the ban if its visit to UK farms and factories in the spring of 2018 delivers satisfactory outcomes for animal inspection authorities. Approval would open up a channel for detailed talks to complete a five-step process the UK needs to complete before it can unlock China’s beef market.

A £250m golden opportunity

The announcement is a vital first step in unlocking this major market for beef, without which we could not progress to the substantive approval process,​” said Peter Hardwick, head of exports at the UK-based Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

For years, senior officials at levy board AHDB worked hard to prove to China that British beef met the sanitary or phytosanitary measures required to trade red meat with the Asian superpower.

This agreement comes after an intensive programme of inspections and visits by the Chinese authorities over the last two years, led by AHDB in collaboration with government and industry organisations,​” added Hardwick.

It is still an ongoing process, but we will continue to play a key role in helping to steer discussions to ensure we unlock the full potential of the Chinese market for beef producers here in the UK.​”

China is one of the world’s largest beef importers​, in volume and value. It provides western processors with an excellent market for fifth-quarter cuts, which companies struggle to sell domestically, and AHDB believes it could be worth £250m ($355m) in the first five years.

The deal came on the first day of the UK Prime Minister’s three-day trade mission to Beijing. May is in China to build strong relationships with the world’s biggest economies as Britain forges a new post-Brexit future.

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