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China a brave new market for German pig ears, feet

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China a brave new market for German pig ears, feet
Photo: DPA
09:57 CEST+02:00
The German pork industry, Europe's largest, is turning its attention to China, a vast market with a taste for pigs' ears, feet and other delicacies that are shunned at home.

After two years of negotiations, Berlin sealed a deal last week in Beijing opening the door to China for German pork.

"It is extremely positive," said Michael Stab, in charge of the meat sector for the German Farmers Association. "There is demand for products that are not worth much here such as trotters and ears and we are going to try to get quite a good price for them."

Pig's tail soup or chopped ears and soy sauce is just some of the choice dishes that Chinese connoisseurs crave.

Previous experience in Hong Kong, the traditional gateway to the Chinese market for German companies, looks promising.

Pork exporters delivered 70,000 tonnes of pig tails, offal and other cheap but tasty morsels to the territory in the first half of the year, according to Matthias Kohlmüller of the agricultural market research firm ZMP.

German pork production is set to reach 4.6 million tonnes this year, 30 percent of which is intended for export.

Meanwhile the emergence of a quickly expanding Chinese middle class is fueling the demand for meat.

"The country has gone from being an exporter to being a net importer extremely fast," Kohlmüller said, citing natural disasters and epidemics endured by the Chinese livestock industry as contributing factors.

It all adds up to a golden opportunity for foreign exporters but they face a thick web of regulations and restrictions that can prove to be daunting hurdles.

Currently the United States, Denmark, France and Canada are the biggest meat suppliers to China.

But the German Meat Federation said Berlin's negotiators had made rapid success in their talks with the Chinese, sailing past "countries such as the Netherlands which still have not reached an accord although they started negotiations much earlier."

But for German suppliers, even with this agreement in hand, there are still open questions. Each potential exporter must be inspected by a veterinary team and certified by Chinese authorities.

In the coming months, five to 10 applicant companies are set to win approval and begin deliveries in 2009, according to the federation. But Stab of the Farmer's Association said the Chinese market needn't fear a glut of German meat.

"The volumes will not be enormous," he said.

"The primary market (for German meat) will remain Germany, then the European Union and then the rest of the world."

Kohlmüller said major exporters would have an advantage, however, in the giant new market.

"Offices on the ground will be needed to deal with the administrative formalities, insurance and other things that small farmers cannot afford," he said.

He said the Chinese market could soon pave the way to the rest of Asia, with German pigs found on South Korean barbecue spits or in Japanese noodle soups as early as next year.

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