Reopened Chinese market gives U.S. beef farmers opportunity to increase exports

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WASHINGTON—U.S. cattle farmers can now export beef to China, which has opened up a previously closed market.

A June 12 agreement to allow U.S. beef exports into China after a 17-year ban gives farmers access to one of the fastest-growing beef markets in the world.

“We’ve seen imports of beef rise in China from in 2003, the last time the U.S. was in that market, from about $70 million to over $2.5 billion worth of beef imported last year,” explained Katelyn McCullock, American Farm Bureau Federation economist. “And so the market potential is such that this could be a very big deal for beef producers,” including Virginia cattlemen.

“I think it’s a wonderful turn of events that this market has been re-opened,” said Emily Edmondson, chairman of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Livestock Advisory Committee and a cattle producer in Tazewell County. “If demand increases, supplies will follow. We should see a corresponding bump in the prices we receive.”

China’s population is 1.4 billion, and over the past five years beef consumption has been climbing along with imports. Between 2011 and 2012, beef imports to China doubled from 50,000 tons to 100,000. By 2016 beef imports had increased nine-fold, reaching 601,000 tons.

U.S. market access was eliminated in 2003 due to Chinese concerns about a cattle disease called bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. Over the past 14 years Australia has taken the lion’s share of the business in the growing beef market.

China is expected to become the largest beef destination in the world. Now that the ban has been lifted, it has the potential to be a major destination for U.S. meat.

“It’s exciting that we can now compete for some of that market share,” Edmondson noted.

McCullock added that China’s import of muscle meats like ribs, roasts or steaks instead of beef parts has increased as well. “Muscle meats tend to be of higher value, and so there’s potential there to have not just more exports, but also higher-value exports.”

Media: Contact Edmondson at 276-646-2624 or McCullock at 202-406-3623.

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