AHDB outlines huge potential for exports to Asia

The impact of Brexit on trade could be partly offset by rising demand for meat in Asia, according to Jean-Pierre Garnier, head of exports at AHDB Beef & Lamb.

A golden era of diplomatic relations between the UK and China, coupled with rising meat demand in India, Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia, means there are a host of new and emerging markets for Britain.

This is the outlook painted by Jean-Pierre Garnier, who spoke at AHDB’s (Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board) meat export conference in Warwick on 29 June. It may go some way to stabilising feelings of trade uncertainty with Britain set to negotiate a new trade policy with the EU. While he did not say the UK’s decision to leave the EU would benefit the meat industry, Garnier claimed Asia represents “tremendous scope for development”.

China remains the largest export market for UK meat. The value of exports last year rose to £43m, with around 54,500 tonnes (t) shipped in 2015. This is a lucrative market worth considerably more than some of Britain’s key Eurozone clients like Germany (£30.3m) and Holland (£12.6m).  

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong took £19.7m worth of meat exports last year after importing 22,200t. Growth in these markets underscores the huge potential across the Asia-Pacific region for high-quality red and white meat.

Garnier described the situation in China as “unprecedented” and said the UK meat sector is “making good money from this market”.  It was an opinion echoed by Karen Morgan, agricultural councillor at the British Embassy in Beijing, who said the UK and China are in a “golden era” of diplomatic relations.

Around 40% of Britain’s exported pork goes to China and despite the economy cooling to a growth rate of 6.9%, AHDB expects pork to fare well in China for the foreseeable future.

“We can’t put all our eggs in the China basket – we need to work on developing ties with other markets,” said Garnier, who suggested developing added value pork could help boost exports.

Some areas UK pork producers could explore includes the shipment of antibiotic-free meat, as the US is apparently not interested in exporting this kind of meat, noted Garnier.

Other areas to explore include the development of cook-in-a-bag and sous-vide products to plug the gap in the booming demand for added-value meat across retail.

For beef producers, areas to consider include working on solutions that tap in trends for premium burgers, he said. One way to increase profits may be to look at manufacturing burgers with beef trimmings or from a specific cut. “We need to step up our game,” said Garnier who warned that Irish beef exporters could outmuscle UK businesses in Asia as Ireland’s beef sector has been the recipient of a €50m aid package.

At some stage negotiations will take place between the UK and the EU to agree a new trading policy, with Britain likely to push for a non-tariff agreement, similar to Norway’s. This process is likely to create “three years of rough seas” for the UK’s meat industry, claimed Garnier.

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