SHANGHAI, May 17 (Reuters) - France has taken another step closer to starting beef exports to China’s huge market after Chinese officials last week inspected seven of the European country’s meat plants, a French industry official said.
China, the world’s second largest beef importer, has already agreed to allow imports of French beef, but Beijing needs to certify processing plants before any meat can be shipped.
It is unclear when the results of last week’s inspections will be known, but Marc Feunteun, chairman of the French Meat Export association, said he hoped to see the first containers heading for China by August.
“Until the visit of Macron, I would have said it would take another two years. Now there’s political will,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of a trade show in Shanghai on Wednesday.
During a visit to Beijing in January, French President Emmanuel Macron said French beef would reach the Chinese market within six months.
“Chinese officials are really under pressure to get this done,” added Feunteun, citing the speed at which auditing and inspections had taken place.
China imported almost 700,000 tonnes of beef in 2017, worth about $3.3 billion, with volumes growing 20 percent from the year before, according to Chinese customs.
Ireland was the first European Union country to win access to the Chinese market, with full approval reached last month, two years after Beijing first lifted its ban on Irish beef.
European Union Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan told reporters on Wednesday that the Irish approval could help to speed up approvals for other EU countries, with more than one expected to win access to the market in 2018.
While smaller European producers will not rival top Chinese beef suppliers Brazil and Australia, access to the Chinese market comes at a critical time.
Demand for beef is falling in France’s home market and neighbouring Italy, said Feunteun, due to changing consumption habits.
China is expected to buy parts of the animal that are not as popular at home.
“In France, the belly parts don’t have much use. In China they will use it in hotpot or Korean barbecue.”
Reporting by Dominique Patton Editing by Joseph Radford