China trade deal to boost Norfolk economy

Norfolk pork producers are set to benefit from a trade deal worth �50m which ministers are on the verge of signing with the Chinese government.

For years British pork producers' efforts to export to China, where there is a huge and growing demand for their meat, have been stymied by the Far East government's regulation.

But agriculture minister Jim Paice has said he is hopeful that on a trade mission to China, which starts today, he will finalise a deal to open the huge nation's market to British producers.

Mr Paice told the EDP that the deal could see the British economy snatch �50m worth of trade 'at the drop of a hat' with year on year increases then expected in demand.

He said: 'On this trip, what is going to be highly relevant to the Norfolk and Suffolk area is pig farming. One of the first things that I'm trying to achieve is to open up the Chinese market to British pig meat.

'Negotiating these things can take time, but I sincerely hope we can reach a conclusion during this trip. Once we've done that the pig meat can be loaded up and start to go straight away.

'We think there is �50m of trade available at the drop of a hat. That's from a standing start and there's a huge opportunity for growing trade.'

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By 2010, Chinese pork imports had risen to 1.8MMT, almost a third of the global trade. But while some imports came from Europe, traders including many in the UK have found it hard to get approval to sell to China.

Norfolk company Cranswick Country Foods, which employs some 900 people, has previously complained about blocks to the Chinese market.

When Cranswick was taken over in 2009 �10m was invested in its Watton plant, but company executives now say the Chinese market is crucial to future expansion. The firm has sent its export director to accompany Mr Paice in Beijing, where a positive trade deal would provide job security for its workers in East Anglia.

Chief operating officer Adam Couch said: 'We are looking to get approval into the Chinese market. The approval for any British plant to export directly into China has been very difficult to achieve in the last 20 years.'

He added: 'We are waiting for the green light from the Chinese government and hopefully we can get that this week.'

Meanwhile, the minister said he would also be looking to develop Anglo-Chinese relations concerning the use of pig-genomics; the breeding of pigs to make them produce more meat, for example, or to be more resistant to disease.

One Cambridge firm working in the area is accompanying Mr Paice on his week-long trip to China; meanwhile others in the region also say they would benefit from better relations.

Dr Mario Caccamo is head of bioinformatics at the Genome Analysis Centre, based at the Norwich Research Park, which has been working in collaboration with the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh to create better scientific tools to breed pigs.

He noted that the Chinese government had a record of investing in international research projects to study pig genomics.

He added: 'Better relations would give us an opportunity to work together more with the Chinese.'

joseph.watts@archant.co.uk

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