Meanwhile, the Indian government is pressing China to allow official access for Indian beef, pork, goat and lamb exports, which it claimed had been blocked on alleged health grounds.
"India is trying hard [to persuade China], but if the issues are not sorted out mutually then, naturally, WTO [World Trade Organisation] is the final forum," said an official from India’s ministry of commerce and industry.
In May 2013, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) facilitating the export of buffalo meat from India to China for the first time, but follow-up negotiations have been deadlocked.
In August 2014, India’s minister for commerce and industry Nirmala Sitharaman told the Rajya Sabha, the Indian parliament’s upper house, that "Indian bovine meat and meat products have been denied entry into the Chinese market on grounds of alleged foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in India."
The All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association (AIMLEA) rejected any such allegation. "Quality-wise there is no issue as China is already taking our meat," a senior official from the association told GlobalMeatNews, through grey market trades via Vietnam.
Indeed, according to Mohammed Ather, chairman of Delhi-based buffalo meat exporting Azan Group, Chinese importers are only too happy to buy Indian buffalo meat, albeit via Vietnam.
Indian government trade figures said India exported more than US$1.8 billion of buffalo meat to Vietnam in the financial year ending March 2014. Ather said most of that was actually destined for the Chinese market.
"We are asked to send plain packing with only the name of the product and they put a ‘Made in Vietnam’ stamp before shipping it to China," he said.
Vietnam’s Haiphong Port is the where most of this Indian meat is loaded in small ships and boats bound for China, said Ather.
He claimed Chinese meat traders visited India regularly to finalise deals and the Vietnamese were just the mediators. "The payments are made through Vietnam, Hong Kong and Dubai," he said.
Chinese traders order boneless frozen and dried buffalo meat, including offal like intestines and lungs, said Ather. The products earn Indian exporters US$3,500 to US$4,500 per tonne.
According to an AIMLEA official, direct exports to China could lead to a 50% increase in this trade. "Direct export is a win-win situation for both the countries as it would be cheaper for China," he said.
According to India’s Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), in the financial year ending March 2014, India exported buffalo meat worth US$4.3bn to 60 countries including Malaysia, Egypt and Thailand.