An Irish animal feed company, Connolly's Red Mills, has become the first in the world to secure a licence to import horse feed into mainland China.

The Department of Agriculture signed the agreement for the animal feed licence with Chinese officials in Beijing during the Agri Services Trade Mission to China being led by Minister for Agriculture, Food and The Marine, Simon Coveney.

The deal - which is potentially worth several million euro - gives first mover advantage to the Co Kilkenny-based company.

Connolly's Red Mills horse feeds are already well known to many of the leading stables in the world. Over one hundred Group One, Grade One, or Grand Prix events have been won by horses fuelled by their products in the last season.

"We embarked on the Chinese registration process in 2007 and are delighted to see it come to fruition today. Although the Chinese horse market is still emerging, there is considerable potential and advantage for us by being first past the post." according to Connolly's Red Mills managing director, Joe Connolly.

The family owned company, which has been in business over 100 years, has a strong presence in Asia. It is established in six Asian markets since it started exporting to Japan in 2006. China now becomes Connolly's Red Mill's 37th export market globally.

According to Joe Connolly, the Chinese want to be at a global standard not just economically, but also in sport. "The demand for world class services for sports horses is growing in China.

Red Mills, as a supplier to many of the top stables in the world, can now offer the Chinese horse owner the most advanced performance nutrition and quality standards; particularly for anti-doping controls and product shelf-life."

Red Mills success will help the Irish horse industry in its drive to become a supplier of top horses and horse related products into the country, which has a population of almost 1.3 billion and is expected to become the world's biggest economy by 2020.

The group employs 200 people at its plant in Goresbridge and at export offices around the world including the UK, Sweden, France, Japan and Malaysia.