French joy as Beijing lifts beef ban

Top News | 11 Jan 2018

French beef producers have hailed a deal reached by President Emmanuel Macron and President Xi Jinping to end China's 16-year-old embargo on French beef.

The accord - which will allow French producers back into the huge mainland market within six months - came as Macron made a three-day visit to the country, his first destination in Asia as France's leader.

The ban was imposed in 2011 as Beijing started closing off its markets to all European and later US beef imports in the wake of the "mad cow" disease scare.

Paris has been working for years to promote the safety of its meat and open new markets for its ranchers, who were hit hard by the "mad cow" scare of the 1990s.

"Our beef currently has no access to China for sanitary reasons, but with French beef consumption falling 5 percent a year, we have to find new markets," said economy minister Bruno Le Maire, who is travelling with Macron."It will allow for higher prices that will better compensate cattle ranchers."

Beef is rapidly becoming more common on Chinese tables as the middle class expands, with imported meat particularly prized.

"Excellent news for France's beef producers, who consider the potential of the Chinese market a strategic opportunity," the Interbev producers' association said.

Its president, Dominique Langlois, is part of the delegation of about 50 business leaders who joined Macron for his trip.

Interbev said China is the second-largest importer of beef at nearly 1.1 million tonnes a year.

The average mainlander eats four kilograms each year, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Some 90 percent of China's imports now come from Brazil, Uruguay, Australia and New Zealand.

Several countries have dropped their import bans against French beef in recent years, including the United States, which again opened its market last year.

French producers could nonetheless find China a tough market to crack. "It will be hard and take time, because France will be entering a very competitive market," said Jean-Marc Chaumet, an economist who specializes in China at the French Livestock Institute in Paris.

French officials said talks were also continuing about China's ban on French poultry, imposed in 2015 after an outbreak of bird flu.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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