China and Ireland on Tuesday signed a formal protocol on beef exports to China that paves the way to access for Irish beef to China.
The protocol is related to inspection, quarantine and veterinary health requirements for Irish frozen beef to be exported to China.
This marks another major milestone in the process of getting Irish beef into the Chinese market, the Irish government said in a statement.
China imposed a ban on Irish beef after Europe's mad cow disease outbreak in 2000.
In order to complete the process to allow Irish beef exporters access to the Chinese market, a veterinary health certificate with China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) must be finalized, which will be followed by an inspection visit by the Chinese Certification and Accreditation Administration (CNCA) to approve individual processing plants for export, according to the Irish government.
Beef consumption in China has increased almost six fold between 1990 and 2015 and is forecast to increase further over the coming years.
However, Chinese beef production has not kept pace with rising demand.
On Tuesday, the two sides also signed a protocol to facilitate trade in thoroughbred horses for an emerging racing sector in China.
Irish agri-food exports to China have increased from about 240 million euros (256.7 million U.S. dollars) in 2012 to 780 million euros in 2016, a three-fold increase.
This made China the third largest market for Ireland's agri-food sector in value terms after Britain and the United States in 2016.