Northern Ireland has been provisionally recommended for approval to export pork products to China, according to the north’s agriculture minister Michelle O’Neill.

She said that China’s certification agency, the CNCA, has announced its intention to approve two plants in Northern Ireland to export pork, subject to them completing some remedial actions identified as part of their audit earlier this year.

“My officials are working closely with the businesses concerned to ensure this work is progressed expeditiously and to a very high standard.

“This welcome step forward follows my third visit to China in June, which was focused on negotiating these vital pork approvals. I am pleased that my efforts have borne fruit.

“Securing approval was also made possible by us hosting two inward inspections by Chinese officials in April of this year.”

O’Neill confirmed that the commencement of pork exports to China will represent a major boost for the pig industry in Northern Ireland.

“It will also provide lasting, long term benefits to the wider agri-food sector and to the economy of the north as a whole. I also look forward to the north being able to extend this trade in the future to cover the export of pig trotters and additional pork products, which are not readily consumable on the domestic market.

This will add value to the carcase for producers and processors alike.

“I, and my Department, continue to invest much time and energy into opening new markets to expand the agri-food industry in the north and I look forward to making more positive announcements on market opportunities in the future.”

Ulster Farmers’ Union deputy president Ivor Ferguson has also welcomed the CNCA decision.

“This is the outcome of several years of negotiations with the CNCA. We commend all those involved in the hard work to gain access to what will soon be the world’s biggest market for pigmeat.

“These new export opportunities represent a major boost to the pork industry. They are particularly welcome when volatility caused by a number of factors, but mainly the Russian import ban, has hit prices.

“Farmers urgently need to see margins improve and part of the solution is speedier access to new export markets.”