As they continue to marvel at the potential opportunities to come from a progressing trade deal with China, beef and poultry industry leaders know that the devil is in the details and that success will be predicated on two-way cooperation.
The first of 10 points in the U.S.-China 100-day action plan, announced late Thursday, is that China resume imports of U.S. beef no later than July 16. The second point is that the U.S., also by that date, publish a proposed rule allowing the import of cooked Chinese chicken, something Washington has resisted for years based on food safety concerns.
Beef industry leaders didn’t seem all that worried about the poultry component becoming a burden to their cause. On a conference call held this morning, Kent Bacus, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s director of international trade and market access, said that the action plan — and such short deadlines — demonstrates that the two sides are willing to cooperate and eager to accomplish their mutual goals.
Meanwhile, questions remain about the level of restrictions that China will impose on U.S. beef, with the main sticking point over the years being the lack of a mandatory traceability system in the U.S. Other major beef exporters to China, such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, all have mandatory traceability systems.
Bacus said on the NCBA call that details of the protocol are yet unknown, but that the industry is confident that it has convinced China of the complexity and safety of U.S. beef production. He noted that China’s main concern was on bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a case of which in 2003 prompted China’s ban, and that America’s negligible risk status addresses that concern. Meanwhile, the industry believes that a voluntary traceability system in the United States would work, in that there’s plenty of economic incentive for U.S. beef producers to address China’s growing appetite for protein.
China is estimated to be a $2.6 billion market for U.S. beef. Its middle class alone is larger than the entire U.S. population, helping make China account for 12 percent of the world’s beef export business.