UK pork plants could soon be given the green light to export to China by the end of 2019 in a market already worth £70m per year.
The government said China had recently approved five pork plants for export and more could be ready for approval by the end of the 2019.
It is understood that the approvals, which include two processing plants and three cold stores, are subject to Food Standards Agency inspections.
China is currently urgent to secure meat imports to fill the huge gap created by its devastating African swine fever outbreak.
In a statement, the UK Export Certification Partnership (UKECP) which is helping to facilitate pork exports to China, said it was expecting formal confirmation of the five additional pork approvals ‘very soon’.
Between December and March, it submitted applications for three additional pork processing plants as well as four additional approvals for the export of trotters and three additional cold stores.
It said: “In the past we have had to wait months for these applications to be considered and for additional questions and application forms to be needed.
“These have been followed by individual inspection and subsequent approval of each operation by Chinese officials.
“As a result of the engagement by the UK CVO at OIE in Paris and the visit of the Defra Permanent Secretary to Beijing we are hopeful of fast tracking the approval process which in the past has taken several years to complete.
“We hope that two more processing plants (and three cold stores) will be approved for export of pork to China very soon.”
'Great news' for UK pork sector
Speaking at the National Pig Association (NPA) Producer Group meeting earlier this week, British Pig Association chief executive Marcus Bates, who is part of the UKECP, said the expected fast-tracking of plant approvals was ‘great news’ for the UK pork sector.
The number of plants, including some major ones, still not approved for export to China has been cited as one of the factors holding the UK pork sector back as increased Chinese demand boosts the global pig sector.
He predicted that, as long as things go according to plan from this point, it should mean more pork shipments to China, by the end of this year.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies welcomed the news, which she said should help boost the domestic pork market.
However, she added: “I hope that British pig producers see some of the additional revenue rather than it simply lining the processors bottomless pockets still further.”
It follows an agreement between China and the UK to secure access for British beef exporters by the end of 2019.