US beef exports to China will be good for Montana

China’s 1.4 billion people will buy about $2.5 billion in beef this year. 

Next month for the first time in about 14 years, U.S. cattle producers will have access to that market.

China, along with many other countries, halted U.S. beef imports after cattle in this country tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which destroys the brain and central nervous system of infected cattle. Humans who eat nerve tissue of infected cattle can get variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease, which is fatal.

While other countries lifted their U.S. beef bans, China has remained off limits, until now. In exchange, the United States will open up our market to processed chicken from China.

This month at the Ag Summit in Great Falls, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the posting of documents related to the beginning of shipments.

The United States is the world’s largest beef producer and was the world’s fourth-largest exporter, with global sales of more than $5.4 billion in 2016.  Until the ban took effect, the United States was China’s largest supplier of imported beef, providing 70 percent of their total intake.

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., has encouraged Chinese officials to import Montana beef, meeting with trade officials, sending letters and asking the Trump administration to prioritize the deal.

The news is good for Montana’s $1.78 billion cattle industry. Montana’s ranchers are mostly cow-calf operations, with calves sold to feedlots, where they are finished before they are harvested and the beef is processed. Wider markets for that beef generally means better markets for the cow-calf producer.

Trade deals are long and complicated. China’s ban on U.S. beef imports meant that the entire time former Montana Sen. Max Baucus was the Ambassador to China, from 2014 to earlier this year, he could not get a steak from a U.S.-raised cow in China.

The persistence of many paid off and now Montana ranchers and our state’s economy will benefit.

We owe them all thanks.