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New Zealand's first consignments of chilled meat to China are winging their way to Shanghai as part of a six-month trial.
The air-freighted consignments from Alliance Group and Greenlea Premier Meats marked a ''significant step'' towards enabling permanent access for New Zealand chilled meat to China, Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said yesterday.
Alliance Group dispatched French lamb racks that had been processed at its Pukeuri plant.
Chief executive David Surveyor said it was a ''significant milestone'' for the co-operative, its in-market Chinese partner Grand Farm, and New Zealand agriculture.
In April last year, it was announced that New Zealand and China had agreed to protocols relating to chilled meat. The move was lauded as being set to add hundreds of millions of dollars in returns from red meat exports.
Industry leaders predicted the market could add up to 64% in value to those exports to China, which were already worth nearly $1.6 billion in 2015.
It had also been stated that development of the necessary infrastructure to support the exports would be critical to success. The trial would initially involve 10 meat establishments agreed in conjunction with industry.
Chilled meat was a premium, high-value and high-growth product so it was ''great news'' for farmers, producers and the wider red meat industry. It was also welcome news for Chinese consumers, Mr Guy said in a statement.
''These are the first of many more shipments expected to be exported to China as part of the trial, which is a big step forward for our work to expand access to China for a range of meat products,'' he said.
It was an exciting opportunity to add to New Zealand's already significant frozen meat exports to China.
''This is the kind of product that will end up in high-end retail stores and white-tablecloth restaurants,'' he said.
Rapidly increasing air links with China would also help. Since 2012, the number of services Chinese airlines could offer each week had risen from seven to 59.
China was New Zealand's second-largest market for beef and sheep exports. New Zealand exported about $1 billion worth of frozen sheep and beef meat in the year to December 2016, a trade that had grown five-fold since 2011.