PARIS (AFP) - French beef producers on Tuesday (Jan 9) hailed a deal reached by President Emmanuel Macron and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to end China's 2001 embargo on French beef.
The accord, which would allow French producers back into the huge Chinese market within six months, came as Mr Macron made a three-day visit to the country, his first destination in Asia as France's leader.
The ban was imposed over a decade ago as Beijing started closing off its markets to all European and later US beef imports in the wake of the "mad cow" disease scare.
Paris has been working for years to promote the safety of its meat and open new markets for its ranchers, who were hit hard by the "mad cow" scare of the 1990s.
"Our beef currently has no access (to China) for sanitary reasons. But with French beef consumption falling 5 per cent a year, we have to find new markets," said economy minister Bruno Le Maire, who is travelling with Mr Macron.
"It will allow for higher prices that will better compensate cattle ranchers," he said.
Beef is rapidly becoming more common on Chinese tables as the middle class expands, with imported meat particularly prized.
"Excellent news for France's beef producers, who consider the potential of the Chinese market a strategic opportunity," the Interbev producers' association said in a statement.
President Dominique Langlois of Interbev is part of the delegation of about 50 business leaders who joined Mr Macron for his trip.
Interbev said China is the second-largest importer of beef, at nearly 1.1 million tons a year. The average person eats 4kg each year, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Ninety per cent of China's imports currently come from Brazil, Uruguay, Australia and New Zealand.
Several countries have dropped their import bans against French beef in recent years, including the United States, which again opened its market last year after imposing a ban in 1998.
French producers could nonetheless find China a tough market to crack.
"There is market share for France to take in China," said economist Jean-Marc Chaumet who specialises in China at the French Livestock Institute in Paris.
"It will be hard and take time, because France will be entering a very competitive market already open to the US, Uruguay, Canada and Australia," he said. "And they'll need to invest, because the Chinese don't know about French beef."
Beyond beef, French officials said talks were continuing about China's ban on French poultry, imposed in 2015 after an outbreak of bird flu.