UK-China free trade agreement of ‘great interest’ to meat sector

By Oscar Rousseau

- Last updated on GMT

A potential free trade agreement with China has peaked the interest of Britain's meat sector
A potential free trade agreement with China has peaked the interest of Britain's meat sector

Related tags Free trade agreement International trade Uk Beef Lamb Packaging equipment & materials Pork Poultry

A China bilateral trade deal offers "great opportunities" to the UK meat industry, according to The International Meat Trade Association (IMTA).

Free Trade Agreements (or FTAs) feature highly on the wish-list of IMTA members based in the UK, especially once Britain leaves the EU. And on an export and import front, China tops the list of desired trade partners.

After Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond told the BBC he was interested in exploring an FTA with China​, GlobalMeatNews​ spoke to the IMTA about what such an ambitious deal would mean for the industry.

Katie Doherty, policy and operations manager, IMTA, said the move would be highly significant for the UK.

Britain can serve China’s demand

The UK currently has export access to China for pork and is working on poultry meat, beef and lamb access,​” said Doherty. “If Free Trade negotiations could help progress favourable access for these products to the Chinese market, then a trade deal would be of great interest to the meat sector. Chinese consumers are demanding high quality meat which the UK can provide.​“

When contacted by this website, the UK treasury said that no further announcement was expected over the rumoured free trade agreement with China. But the news has nevertheless given the meat industry cause for optimism in the face of volatility following the Brexit vote.

The UK needs access to imported sources of meat because it cannot be self-sufficient in meat,​” explained Doherty. “For example in the case of poultry meat the UK consumer disproportionately favours the chicken breast. In order to meet demand for this part of the carcass, UK production would need to be ramped up on a huge scale and more export markets would need to be found for the proportional increase in parts of the carcass not so popular in the UK.

“The meat sector relies on a complementary balance between domestic production, exports and imports and a China-UK Free Trade Agreement would work in synergy with this balance, offering great opportunities for exporters and importers alike.​”

China challenges

However, Jean-Pierre Garnier, head of exports at UK levy board AHDB Beef & Lamb, said any such deal would not happen immediately and could take years to finalise. There were three things that needed to be considered over the rumoured FTA with China, said Garnier.

1) Time frame. "It has taken eight years for New Zealand to negotiate its FTA with China and we need to bring realism to the affair and the key is the starting point which seems to be some way off. Of course we could do it in a much shorter time if the political climate was positive.​"

2)​ Barriers. ​"There are tariff and non-tariff barriers. The latter, which include sanitary barriers are as important. You will be aware of the difficulties in getting British trotters on Chinese menus and again, realism in terms of time frame and required resources are needed.​"

3) Money.​ "China cannot replace the high-paying European markets for premium meats in the short and mid-term,​" said Garnier. 

Separately, IMTA members met with Karen Morgan, UK agri-food and drink counsellor based in the UK embassy in Beijing recently to hear about work in progressing the UK’s market access work.

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