London (AFP) – China has lifted a ban on importing British beef lasting more than 20 years that was triggered by the “mad cow disease” outbreak, the UK government said on Wednesday.
“China has today lifted its longstanding ban on exports of beef from the UK, in a landmark move for British producers estimated to be worth £250 million ($329 million, 284 million euros) in the first five years alone,” said a statement.
“This is great news for British farmers,” finance minister Philip Hammond said on Twitter after a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Hu Chunhua.
Hammond at the meeting said Britain wanted “a substantially deeper economic and financial trade relationship between the UK and China”.
The announcement comes two days after China signed a deal to lift a ban on French beef imposed more than a decade ago.
Announcing an end to the British ban, the UK government said: “Today’s milestone is the culmination of several years of site inspections and negotiations between UK and Chinese government officials.”
– ‘Fantastic news’ –
Environment Secretary Michael Gove called it “fantastic news”, allowing the country to “be a truly outward looking Britain outside the European Union”.
China is the UK’s eighth largest export market for agri-food, with more than £560 million worth of food and drink bought by Chinese consumers last year.
Food exports from Britain to the rest of the world were worth £22 billion last year.
The lifting does not mean that beef imports into China can resume immediately but it opens the way for official market access negotiations, which usually last around three years.
China earlier this week signed a similar deal to lift a ban on French beef that was imposed over a decade ago as China started closing off its markets to all European imports and later to US beef imports after the “mad cow” disease.
China resumed imports of US beef in June 2017 after a 14-year embargo.
China’s appetite for beef has risen over the past decade with an increase in living standards.
Brazil, Uruguay, Australia and New Zealand are currently the main suppliers of beef to China, accounting for almost 90 percent of its imports in 2016.
EU exports of agricultural products to China have doubled over the last five years from 6 to 12 billion euros ($7 to 14 billion).