Announcing the deal, the province’s agriculture minister Michelle O’Neill said the approval will boost the region’s whole agri-food sector.
“The commencement of pork exports to China will represent a major boost for the local pork industry which has been seeking to gain access to this market for several years,” said O’Neill. “It will also provide lasting long term benefits to the wider agri-food sector and to the economy of the north as a whole.”
China’s certification agency, the CNCA, has approved two plants – operated by Karro Food Group and Dunbia – to export pork, subject to the completion of certain remedial actions, identified by a Chinese audit team in March.
“My officials are working closely with the two pork processors to ensure this work is progressed expeditiously and to a very high standard,” said O’Neill.
Pigmeat exports to China are expected to total about 12,000t, with an estimated value of about £10M a year.
The minister hoped the approval will lead on to the export of pig trotters and additional pork products, which are not readily consumable on the domestic market.
Invested about £400,000
Karro Food Group had invested about £400,000 in upgrading its facilities, as part of the three-year inspection and authorisation process in partnership with Chinese officials, it told BBC News.
The investment focused on new changing rooms for each section of the slaughter line and a separate packing area for pork products produced for export to China.
Karro Food Group chief executive Seamus Carr said the export approval will yield a potential increase in turnover of about 10%.
“There will be a premium and what I say to farmers is that we will share that with them,” he told BBC News.
Pork plants in the Republic of Ireland have been licensed to export products to China for some time.
Meanwhile, China was predicted to become the world’s leading consumer of pigmeat on a per capita basis, exceeding the EU by 2022.