Much of the exported pork will be the so-called fifth quarter: offal, trotters, ears and other parts, which many British consumers avoid but is prized by Chinese diners.
Speaking after signing the deal with the Chinese government, food and farming minister Jim Paice said: “China is the most lucrative grocery market in the world and, from fashion to food, its rapidly expanding middle class has an appetite for western goods.
“In particular they are eating more meat, and our top-quality producers have got huge opportunities to meet that demand and help our economic recovery.”
Ahead of the game
Paice said the UK needed to “ … keep ahead of the game by developing strong trade relationships with the world’s second largest economy.
“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.”
Pork imports are needed to bolster domestic supplies, which cannot keep pace with rising consumption rates fuelled by growing affluence.
Stewart Houston, British Pig Executive (BPEX) chairman, said: “This is a wonderful achievement and something we have been working towards for several years in close co-operation with DEFRA [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] and the British embassy in Beijing.
Most popular meat
“The process has been a long one but I know it will prove to be extremely worthwhile. Pork is the most popular meat in China and some of the cuts that are less popular here command a premium over there.”
The first consignment of British pork is ready to be dispatched by Tulip, the UK’s biggest producer. Its director of agriculture Andrew Saunders, said: “The news of the clearance to supply British pig meat into China is the culmination of many months hard work by the team at DEFRA, BPEX and the National Pig Association, which have played a vital role in securing this export business opportunity by working in conjunction with the pig meat processing industry and UK pig farmers.”
Saunders added: “The commitment by China to use British pig meat is true testament to the quality and standards in place across the UK pig industry.”
A BPEX spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk the organisation was working on exports to China even before the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2007. The Chinese authorities also need much reassurance about the UK status as being free of classical swine fever.
Food sales rose by more than 25% during the first months of 2010, according to China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. The estimate was made after collecting data from the nation's top 100 retailers.
After China, BPEX will work towards boosting exports to other countries in South East Asia such as Thailand.
To watch our exclusive video interview with Paice on food and drink exports, filmed at the trade show Foodex, click, here.