The Hill: China moves to lift ban on US beef

China is moving to lift a long-standing ban on U.S. beef after a mad cow disease scare locked out imports more than a decade ago. 

The Obama administration said Thursday that Chinese officials the first have taken the first step to ending the 13-year moratorium, a move that could boost U.S. exports to one of the world’s fastest growing markets for beef.

“We look forward to prompt engagement by the relevant authorities for further technical discussions on the specific conditions that will allow trade to resume,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement.

Vilsack said the decision by China’s Ministry of Agriculture to open up the market is “a critical first step to restore market access for U.S. beef and beef products.”

China closed its doors on U.S. beef in December 2003 after the discovery of a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease.

During the ensuring 13-year period, the Agriculture Department led a multi-agency, full-court press to restore foreign market access for U.S. beef. 

“This is great news for U.S. beef producers,” said Kent Bacus, director of international trade for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.  

“While these initial reports are positive, we must continue technical negotiations and undergo the process of formally approving export certificates,” Bacus said.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who applauded the move, said he recently visited China and met with U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus, a former Democratic senator from Montana, as well as Chinese officials to discuss ending the ban.

“This is game-changing news for Montana ranchers,” Daines said in a statement. 

“I’m glad that this ban has been lifted for our state and for the beef industry,” he said. 

China, which is the world’s second largest buyer of beef, said it will accept U.S. beef from animals under 30 months of age as part of the reinstatement of trade between the countries. 

Much has changed since the ban went into place in 2003.

At the time, China’s imports of beef totaled $15 million, including $10 million from the United States.

But in recent years, China’s imports have risen dramatically, reaching a record $2.3 billion in 2015, according to Agriculture’s figures. 

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The Agriculture Department forecasts that China will surpass Japan as the second-largest beef importer this year with increasing demand from the communist country’s middle class.

Bacus used the announcement to plug a pending Pacific Rim trade deal that U.S. beef producers say is crucial to recovering a loss of market share in the region. 

“This latest announcement by China is welcome news and further highlights the benefits of trade in the Pacific, opportunities that will only be expanded by passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” he said.