Irish animal feed company Red Mills has become the first in the world to secure a licence to export horse feed to mainland China.
The company, which is based at Goresbridge in Co Kilkenny, said it was difficult to guess the value of its business with China, but estimates its potential worth at several million euros.
China now becomes Connolly's Red Mills 37th export market globally and it already has a strong presence in the rest of Asia. It began exporting to Japan in 2006.
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 this week being led by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and The Marine, Simon Coveney.
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.
''Although the Chinese horse market is still emerging, there is considerable potential and advantage of us by being first past the post, said Red Mill's managing director Joe Connolly.
Horse racing centre
During the trade visit, it emerged that China had chosen Ireland to help establish a multi-billion euro horse-racing and breeding industry.
As a first step, Ireland will work with the Chinese government to put in place a national equine centre in Tianjin, the country's fourth largest city.
The facility is expected to generate almost €40m in exports for Ireland within three years.
As part of the project, China's top agriculture graduates from Chinese universities will spend two months at Coolmore Stud in Co Tipperary learning the industry.
While Coolmore is involved in the initial venture, it is expected that there will be opportunities for many other Irish companies and individuals to participate in the project as it develops.