LONDON, June 19 (Xinhua) -- British Farming Minister Jim Paice has been a "shining star" after a recent trade mission to China as he has taken back a big deal for pig farmers at home.
Paice put the finishing touches last month to an agreement on selling about 50 million pounds (78.6 million U.S. dollars) of pig products a year to China, a promising market it took Britain five years to open up.
The trade deal may help save Britain's ailing pig industry, which will be able to start exporting to China offal, trotters, and other culinary delights, which are called the "fifth quarter" of a pig, which has little value in Britain's "traditional" pig meat markets.
FOOD SAFETY -- OPEN SESAME TO CHINESE MARKET
Britain had been seeking access to China's pork market for some years but the 2007 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain was among the factors that prolonged the process.
When British pig farmers, abattoirs and processors are struggling in the face of high input costs and pricing constrained by aggressive retailers trying to win over cash-strapped consumers, this time, food safety has become the open sesame for British pig products to enter the Chinese market.
At the workshop of British food manufacture Vion based in North Yorkshire in the central part of Britain, Kevin Purvis, operations manager of Vion Food, told Xinhua that they provided "high-quality pork products to China" and every process is under strict inspection.
He proudly pointed to the ready-packed pork products in the freeze storages. "They are ready for China," he said while showing the tags with serial number, batch number, storage temperature, packing date and freeze date. Each part can source back to the origins of the products, said Purvis.
"The commitment by China to use British pig meat is true testament to the quality and standards in place across the UK pig industry and provides us with an exciting opportunity to enter a developing market," said Andrew Saunders, Director of Agriculture of Tulip, the biggest pork producer in Britain.
A source with the National Pig Association told the press that talks with Chinese counterparts on pig export have taken a long time, with focus on Britain's food safety system, live pig quarantine and inspection, about which the Chinese side is most concerned.
China is also interested in pig breeding technology as British pigs have greater fertility.
Britain has already exported live breeding pigs to China. A source with the pig association disclosed that they would invite Chinese vets to make inspection in late July.
BOOST TO ECONOMY
The pig meat deal is a new breakthrough in Sino-British trade relations.
Statistics show that Britain's exports to China increased rapidly last year but the growth was mainly driven by the exports of medical equipment, paper pulp, medicine and especially Britain-made luxury cars such as Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Landrover, which are selling well in the Chinese market.
But from now on, the export list also includes pig meat, a potential growth engine for the economy.
The latest report issued by the National Farmers Union (NFU) said the farming sector contributed some 85 billion pounds to Britain's economy last year, while helping to keep some 3.5 million people in work. Food exports increased by 11 percent last year, making food and drink the fourth largest export sector for Britain.
"Farming is no longer the quaint old industry which has served Britain well in the past but is doing so much more today," said Paice, farming minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
"Now farmers are using techniques and technology we couldn't have dreamed of 50 years ago and in this new rapidly-growing global food market they face huge opportunities to deliver real wealth for our economy," he said.
Rising prices for meat and grain in international markets have helped to boost farmers' income.
"Together, farming and food make up a precious oasis of growth and potential at a time when the economy generally is struggling," the NFU report said.
Britain, the seventh largest economy in the world, slipped back into recession after the country's GDP shrunk 0.2 percent in the first quarter this year. A recession is defined as two successive quarters of contraction.
The British government is trying every means to boost the economy. Paice has pinned a big hope on food exports, saying that British high-quality meat products are facing opportunity.
During his recent trip to China, Paice explored opportunities to increase cooperation with China on breeding stock and agricultural technology, hoping to further expand the Chinese market for British farm products and food.
Paice estimated that Britain could easily sell 50 million pounds worth of pig meat "each year almost at the drop of a hat." (1 pound = 1.57 U.S. dollars)