My officials continue to work towards opening and enhancing access to as many markets as possible. This is a key part of our response to the challenges and uncertainty posed by Brexit, and in line with the market development theme of the Food Wise 2025 strategy.
The opening of the Chinese market for Irish beef in 2018 was the culmination of significant work, over a number of years, and I am delighted that seven Irish beef plants are currently approved to export beef to China. Exports of Irish beef to China commenced in the second half of 2018 and are expected to grow considerably during 2019.
My Department's market access priorities for this year include advancing further beef plant approvals by the Chinese authorities, and also beginning the process for market access for sheepmeat.
During my recent trade mission to China, I submitted further detailed documentation on an additional tranche of beef plants to Vice Minister Zhang of the General Administration of Customs (GACC), in a new template agreed following previous technical discussions. At our productive meeting in Beijing, Vice Minister Zhang committed to an inspection visit in August 2019 for the further tranche of beef plants, and in respect of sheepmeat, both a systems audit and plant inspections. While this represents good progress, the exact timelines for gaining and improving market access for any product remain a matter for the Chinese authorities.
As you may know, Ireland has access to the Chinese market for pigmeat . In 2018 Ireland exported €76.6 million (58,142 tonnes) of pigmeat to China, our second most important export market after the UK.
Further details of Irelands access to third country markets can be found on my Department's dedicated market access portal.