China lifts ban on British beef

British beef will be back on the menu in China for the first time in more than 20 years, after it officially lifted the longstanding ban on exports from the UK.

More than two decades since the Chinese government first banned British beef after the BSE outbreak, the milestone is the culmination of several years of site inspections in the UK and negotiations between government officials.

The deal is also a major boost for British farmers and producers, and is estimated to be worth £250m in the first five years alone. It follows the prime minister’s trade mission to China earlier this year, where she agreed new measures to improve market access to the country.

China is currently the UK’s eighth largest export market for “agri-food” – the production of food through agriculture – with more than £560m worth of food and drink bought by Chinese consumers last year.

Reflecting the growing appetite of the country’s middle classes for steak and ribs, it is also the world’s second largest beef importer, taking in almost 700,000 tonnes in 2017 – worth about $3.3bn (£2.5 bn) – with volumes up 20% from the year before.

The announcement on Wednesday by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will now allow official market access negotiations to begin – a process which typically takes about three years.

“This is fantastic news for our world-class food and farming industry and shows we can be a truly outward-looking Britain outside the European Union,” said the environment secretary, Michael Gove. “It is the result of painstaking and collaborative work by industry and the Defra team over many years. Today’s milestone will help to unlock UK agriculture’s full potential and is a major step to forging new trading relationships around the globe.”

Food exports from the UK continue to soar with exports of more than £22bn in 2017 – a new record – with food and drink businesses now selling products to 217 international markets, Defra said.

A spokesman for the British Meat Processing Association welcomed the lifting of the ban. “This is an important milestone in growing our meat exports to this all-important market” he said. “We look forward to seeing the export protocols and approvals being settled as quickly as possible so that commercial shipments can start. Access to the Chinese market will play a key role in the beef sector’s ability to maximise the value of the carcass, which is good news for all parts of the supply chain.”

BSE, or “mad cow disease” affected other countries as well as the UK which also led to bans by China. The US and Canada have since negotiated access back into the China beef market in recent years. In the EU, Hungary, Denmark, Italy and Ireland have all had their bans lifted – France earlier this week – although other countries such as Poland, Germany, Sweden, Portugal and Spain still have bans in place.

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