Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed has said that the opening of the Chinese market to Irish beef could result in exports of 1.5 million tonnes.

This morning Mr Creed announced that three Irish beef factories have been fully approved by the Chinese authorities and are the first European beef processors to gain access to that country.

There are hopes that approvals for five more will follow soon.

Speaking during a meeting of EU agriculture ministers in Luxembourg, Mr Creed said China represented "an enormous potential market".

He added that the development should be seen as part of the Government's overall Brexit strategy.

"Over 50% of our beef goes to the UK, over 250,000 tonnes, so obviously given the fact that we don't know what the future access to that market is going to be, part of our Brexit strategy has been about looking for new markets," he said.

"This is the biggest market in the world, and it has the potential to be for the beef industry," the minister said.

He added that China is already Ireland's second biggest market globally for dairy exports and for pork exports.

China is now fully open and operational for Irish beef, and the export of frozen boneless beef to the largest single food market in the world can begin.

The factories that have been fully approved, and can actively export to China from this morning, include the Larry Goodman-owned ABP plant in Clones in Co Monaghan, Slaney Meats based in Co Wexford, and Donegal Meat Processors.

All of these meat factories have succeeded in satisfying the most exacting production standards demanded by the Chinese and are the first European beef factories to gain access to the Chinese market.

Mr Creed has also said he will lead a trade mission to China next month to further build on Ireland's trade relationships and continue its dialogue with the Chinese government.

It is expected that during that trip the Irish authorities will push for the clearance of the five remaining beef plants which have applied for access to the Chinese beef market but have not yet been approved.

They are ABP in Nenagh, Kepak Clonee, Liffey Meats, Dawn Meats Charleville and Kildare Chilling.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Creed described the process to get to this point as "slow and complex", adding it was a process that his predecessors had also been involved in.

"Primarily it's a triumph for our beef farmers because they're producing quality. But there were a lot of hoops to be jumped through: diplomatic, political, technical but they're all cleared now," he added.

"This is a market of nearly 1.5 billion people so a small part of that market can deliver huge rewards." 

Mr Creed added that the more markets Ireland could access, the greater chance there was of delivering a better margin to the primary producer. 

Additional reporting Tony Connelly