Food and Farming Minister Jim Paice will travel to China this morning to finalise a new agreement which would see the world’s most populous country open its borders to British pork and other related industries.
Meat is in increasing demand amongst China’s burgeoning middle class, with pork the most popular choice for those with money to spend.
The prospect of selling pork to the 500 million Chinese residents expected to be eating meat by the end of the decade offers the chance of a major export boom for Yorkshire’s many pig farmers.
The Government is hopeful the market will immediately be worth £50m a year – a figure that should grow considerably higher in the years to come.
“Opening up the Chinese market to pig meat is the main objective of this trade mission,” Mr Paice said. “We have been negotiating for several years and we are nearly there.
“There is a huge opportunity. Meat consumption has been rising dramatically and is expected to keep increasing.
“You’re talking about a market where half a billion people will be eating meat by 2020 – however improved the Chinese farming industry becomes, it is not going to be able to meet that need.”
Just as important to the UK and Yorkshire will be the sale of pig farming techniques to China – much of it related to genetic science and raising productivity.
Mr Paice said it was time to start re-branding British farming as an advanced, scientific industry to be exported around the world.
“People in this country have tended to look at farming as a bit quaint, as looking after local people and that sort of thing,” he said. “We have to move away from that.
“This is a modern, forward-looking industry. British farming is among the most advanced in the world.
“It can play a huge part in Britain’s economic recovery.”
Joining Mr Paice on his six-day trade mission will be a number of British firms, including Driffield-based pig breeding and genetics firm ACMC.
The company sells the skills and expertise to grow and develop pig-breeding programmes.
ACMC uses data systems to analyse pig performance on farms, looking at the numbers of piglets being produced and how quickly they grow. Ultrasound is used to assess the feed-to-meat-produced ratio, muscle depths and fat ratios.
“One of the interesting aspects of the Chinese market is that there is very strong demand for some of the offal and other parts of a pig that are not widely eaten in Britain,” said ACMC managing director Matthew Curtis.
“That really underpins the price of the animal.”
“From a technology point of view, it’s a frightening statistic that half the world’s sows are in China and half of them, 25 per cent of the entire global stock, are reared by families in back yards.
“So China is desperate to improve its technology and farming systems, and companies like ours can help them.
“It’s a very valuable market for the UK.”
Mr Paice said he also hopes to begin negotiations about opening up Chinese markets to British beef and lamb.
“I think there’s still a little bit of hesitancy there, if I’m honest, because of BSE,” he said. “But we are working hard on it and I’m hopeful we can make some progress.”
The Tory Minister will also be looking to boost exports of luxury food items from the UK, which he believes are seen as aspirational commodities for the burgeoning Chinese middle classes.
Artisan crisp maker Tyrrell’s will also be joining the delegation along with Scotch whiskey manufacturers and frozen lobster firms.
“There are still huge opportunities for growth in emerging markets like China,” Mr Paice said.
“China wants what Britain has to offer – outstanding food and drink, high quality animals for breeding and farming skills and expertise that are second to none.”