July 13, 2018 / 4:24 PM / 10 months ago

China gives first import permits for French beef firms

PARIS (Reuters) - China has granted the first beef import permits to two French slaughterhouses and two storage sites, ending a 17-year embargo, the French Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

France signed a health and safety agreement last month with Beijing, opening the way for effective access to China’s beef market.

Paris, which secured last year the lifting of the embargo dating from Europe’s mad cow disease crisis two decades ago, has been eager for exports to begin, which could bring relief to cattle farmers struggling with low prices.

“The decision, which ends a 17-year Chinese embargo on french beef, is very important for the beef industry,” the ministry said in a statement.

French meat industry association Interbev said last month that seven slaughterhouses had applied for export permits and that it expected actual beef exports to begin in September.

China is now the world’s second-largest beef importer, taking in almost 700,000 tonnes of the red meat in 2017, worth about $3.3 billion, with volumes up 20 percent from the year before, according to Chinese customs data.

China has been loosening such longstanding restrictions on beef imports to feed the appetite of the country’s growing middle class for steaks and ribs, and has in the past couple of years cleared the United States and Ireland, like France a member of the European Union, to export beef.

Locked in a tit-for-tat trade standoff with Washington, China has proposed retaliatory tariffs against a range of U.S. goods including beef, which could help France by stalling U.S. shipments after they resumed last year.

Reporting by Leigh Thomas; editing by David Evans

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