China warms up to U.S. beef

By Jessica Domel

For the first time in 14 years, China has reopened its doors to American beef. While the move is good for American cattle producers, the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) reminds the industry that market regrowth won’t happen overnight.

“China was really the last major market that remained closed following the 2003 BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) case. We probably have about four months of real commerce going on,” Joe Schuele, vice president of Communications for USMEF, said. “We cautioned the industry that this will be a slow build because China has some unique production requirements, import restrictions that were going to limit the number of eligible cattle that we had on hand.”

USMEF expected export numbers to be fairly low in the early few months because of those requirements. Schuele said that has been the case, but there has been a positive reception for U.S. beef so far in China.

“The per pound value that we’re deriving on exports to China is among the highest in the world,” Schuele said. “We would say the early returns on exports to China are very solid. November was the best month we’ve had so far with almost $6 million. Since the market reopened, we’re at about $23 million.”

Those numbers are much smaller than what is earned shipping American beef to Japan, Korea and Taiwan, but those markets took many years to build, Schuele said.

“China will be no exception, but I think once people get a better grasp of the production requirements and have confidence this market is going to stay open and is going to deliver good returns, we think we’ll see more eligible supply available,” Schuele said. “We think China has good long-term potential.”

Japan was the leading market for U.S. beef in 2017, purchasing 307,559 metric tons at $1.89. That’s a 25 percent increase in value over 2016 and a new post-BSE record.

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