As I mentioned last week, it was my first trip and really was an assault on the senses. A truly amazing country. More than anything though it has given me a greater understanding of the complexities involved in accessing this potentially huge market for our processors and producers.
One thing really driven home to me is that we will really have to have greater respect for the product to be part of the Chinese food scene. The biggest opportunities currently for beef and sheep meat products in the Chinese market lie in the fifth quarter. The potential for increased volumes of what we view as higher end cuts and steaks are there - and are growing - but will take a while before they catch up with things like demand for paddywhacks and tendons. But we have to stop looking down our nose (or turning our nose up?), however inadvertently, at what we call fifth quarter products – those bits of the animal loosely termed offal that we have little or no domestic market for. In China, those are the premium products and command higher prices than the steaks we more commonly buy here.
We must treat the product accordingly therefore if we want to sell it to the Chinese market. It should not be discarded in a bucket in a corner of the abattoir, or appear to be simply saved from disposal, but should have clear, quality processes for collecting, checking and packing. This is what we will need to demonstrate to the Chinese delegations when they come to visit our facilities before market access can take any great strides forwards.
The Chinese do take food safety really seriously. This is because they eat parts of the animal that, if you do not get it right and handle and cook it correctly, can go very wrong. Their commitment to high food standards is huge, even though at first sight this may not seem the case.
I should also say that in a very short space of time my respect for the Chinese integrity has grown very quickly. Their own awareness of the huge challenge they have with such a vast population to feed is acute and they are working hard to address the issue. We can help become part of that solution. This is risk management on a huge scale and that comes through all the time in negotiations and is something we need to understand and respect if we want to be part of this massive market.
So through the meetings and exposure at the CIMIE event, market access continues to move forward but no one should labour under the illusion that it is going to happen tomorrow. I am convinced it will happen but the industry here in England, and the wider UK, has a lot of work to do yet.
EBLEX sector director