As you know, I am a great believer in the export potential of our high-quality EU agricultural products. This week I continued my diplomatic and trade mission to Asia, visiting China and Japan for the first time. I have been accompanied by 60 agri-food business representatives from 15 EU Member States to highlight the quality and standards of our exports.
China is the second largest importer of EU agricultural and processed agricultural products, receiving 8% of all EU agricultural exports in 2015. I saw first-hand the number of opportunities that are opening up for European operators in the Chinese food and beverages market. I was proud to launch European Restaurant Week in Beijing - this set-piece is part of the broader “ Tastes of Europe” campaign to promote our world-beating products in key export markets.
It is more important now than ever to deepen relationships in order to smooth the path for better export opportunities. During my meeting with the Chinese Agriculture Minister Han Changfu, I made it clear that we should deepen our cooperation where possible. Both Europe and China have a great opportunity to build upon the positive trade relations that already exist.
To give just one example, I am optimistic that beef trade between China and a number of EU countries may resume before the end of the year. Chinese veterinary inspectors are performing an audit in six European countries this week. The visits by the audit teams, in combination with the work we are doing during the mission to China, should yield positive results.
I also see opportunities to improve EU-China cooperation in the field of agricultural research and innovation. I delivered a keynote address to China Agricultural University on this topic, urging experts on both sides to deepen out structures for collaboration and investment. We must build on the visit by Dr Furong Mey (one of the Directors-General at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences) to Brussels earlier this year.
Following my visit to a large-scale organic farm outside Shanghai, I spoke at a seminar on “Green agriculture and sustainable trade”. The organic market is growing rapidly in the EU, and China is catching up. Organic labelling is associated with quality in China and represents one of the most desirable consumer choices of the growing middle class. I emphasized that we are ready and willing to finalise a deal on organic trade with China, but that both sides will only benefit from this if the highest standards are upheld. The discerning consumer of the 21st Century expects nothing less.
I am currently in Tokyo, Japan meeting Ministers and stakeholders, and again launching European Restaurant Week. The EU enjoys a good trade relationship with Japan - exporting pork, wine, and cheese, among other goods. Every meeting is a small step on the journey to a larger goal: finding new markets for the EU agri-food sector and better prices for our farmers.