A Chinese economist based in Ireland has told AgriLand that China will remain a country of great opportunity for Irish food exporters over the coming years.

“This is particularly so where dairy products are concerned,” added Dr Xiping Wu, chief economist with Down-based Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute.

“China has had a number of food scare-related issues to deal  with regarding dairy imports from New Zealand. The reality is that Chinese consumers view the European dairy industry as the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to delivering on product quality and traceability.

“This represents an opportunity which the Irish dairy industry must grasp.”

He continued: “Millions of Chinese people are joining the ranks of the middle classes each year. And this trend will continue to gather pace during the years ahead. As a consequence, demand for high-quality food products is set to grow. The focus in this context will be on the enhanced inclusion of high-quality animal protein in the diet. This should be good news for the Irish dairy and pork sectors.”

Dr Wu went on to point out that the prospect for future beef and lamb exports to China remains somewhat problematic given the continuing hangover from the BSE crisis and the specific issue of Scrapie in sheep.

“China has dramatically improved its business systems over the years and the ways in which importing companies do business with their customers.

“It’s all about building up trust and the development of long-term relationships that will bear fruit over a period of time. Thre is also a need to improve diplomatic relationships with China, at every level of government. This is an absolute prerequisite in terms of doing business in that country.

“There is also a requirement for exporting businesses ton have a strong presence on the ground in China.”

Dr Wu concluded: “Demand for high-quality imported food is set to grow dramatically within China over the coming years.  This is tremendous news for Irish exporters as Chinese consumers already recognise the high standards of food production and food processing in this country.

“But these opportunities will only be fully realised on the back of a strong commitment made by the Irish food industry to proactively culture strong trading links with China. Up to a point, this is already happening.  However, a lot more can and should be done to improve this situation further.”