Ireland Beefs up Agriculture Agreements with China

IRELAND and CHINA - The Irish see greater cooperation on agricultural trade as an excellent opportunity to increase their dairy and food exports to China. The message from Ireland's Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney comes as Vice-President Xi Jinping arrived in the west coast town of Shannon on last week on a three-day visit.
calendar icon 21 February 2012
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But Mr Coveney also has concerns about the import tariffs China charges on products from the European Union and its ban of EU beef since the outbreak of mad-cow disease in 2000.

Mr Xi said in a written speech upon arrival that the main purpose of his visit was to "deepen the traditional friendship between our people and advance bilateral relations and practical cooperation".

During a trip to a 400-year-old family-run dairy farm in County Clare on Sunday morning, Mr Xi highlighted the importance of cooperation on dairy and agri-food products. Mr Xi was given a tour by farmer James Lynch of livestock housed in sheds, including dry cows, breeding heifers and beef cattle.

"We have a climate that gives us fresh, pure grass, and we have some of the finest dairy herds in Europe," Mr Lynch said. The 87-hectare farm supports a herd of 120 Friesian cows and a smaller herd of beef cattle.

"I think it's a real opportunity for him to see just how fresh and clean the environment for producing food in Ireland actually is," Mr Coveney, the agriculture minister, told ChinaDaily.

He added that Ireland sells almost nine billion euros ($11.83 billion) worth of food per year, but "less than 200 million euros" of it to China.

Ireland has a disadvantage compared to New Zealand, a bigger dairy and agri-food exporter to China, says Coveney, because Dublin is subject to tariffs based on the Sino-European trade agreement. China imported a total of more than $2.31 billion worth of agri-food products from New Zealand in the first nine months of 2011, according to the Ministry of Commerce. According to the Free Trade Agreement signed between the two countries in 2008, almost all of New Zealand's exports to China will be tariff-free by 2019.

Dublin, in comparison, exported about $169 million worth of the same products to Beijing over the same period, according to Bord Bia, the state body responsible for marketing Irish food and drink abroad.

"So obviously we'd like the opportunity to be able to compete with New Zealand, because we think Irish dairy products are just as good," Mr Coveney said. He also said Ireland hopes to export more pork, beef and seafood, particularly salmon, to China.

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