China will not lift ban on US beef, yet

Updated: 2014-03-11 11:04

By Amy He in New York (China Daily USA)

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US meat officials need to share more data on mad cow disease with China before the country will allow the US to resume exporting beef into the country, according to China's vice-minister of agriculture.

Niu Dun told Bloomberg News in an interview that China "hopes for an agreement on US beef by July," but that the US has not shared information on four cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) since 2003 when mad cow disease was reported in Washington State.

"If the US doesn't give us the information, and we can't do the evaluation, then I can't allow imports," said Niu.

The US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) told China Daily that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) division of the US Department of Agriculture had already submitted a completed questionnaire regarding BSE.

"Our understanding is that that was completed promptly and that was returned. There has been no subsequent communication from China asking for any additional details or any additional clarification, so we don't know what the deputy minister is referring to when he says there are gaps," said Joe Schuele, communications director of the USMEF.

The questionnaire was on BSE safeguards, practices and regulations, and it was submitted from APHIS to their Chinese counterparts, according to Schuele. He said he did not know when the questionnaire was submitted, just that it was done so "shortly after it was given to them."

APHIS could not be reached for a comment.

In December, US and China had its 24th annual Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) meeting, where the agenda included discussions on bilateral beef access. The two countries had expressed "optimism" that beef would begin being traded by the summer.

"Both sides basically said we would like to see product moving again by July," Schuele said. "It's consistent with what was said at [the JCCT meeting]."

In an earlier interview with China Daily, Schuele had said that he was "certainly hopeful" that the market will reopen sometime this year, and that there is "reason for optimism" in regards to US-China beef trade.

In January 2014, the US exported more than $450 million worth of beef globally, though China did not contribute to that total, according to figures compiled by the USDA and USMEF. Total US beef exports were valued at more than $5.5 billion for 2012, according to the latest available data.

China's beef currently comes from exporters like Australia and New Zealand, and countries including Canada and India are increasing their foothold in the country's beef market where consumption per capita in 2011 was more than 10 pounds, according to Joel Haggard, senior vice-president of USMEF.

"While beef may never unseat pork as the 'People's Protein,' with China's beef consumption projected to account for 13.5 percent of global beef consumption by 2016 (up from 11.6 percent today), China's beef industry dynamics will move global markets," he wrote in the latest issue of Beef Issues Quarterly, a trade publication.

At the last JCCT meeting, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that discussions with high-level Chinese officials, including those with Premier Li Keqiang, "laid the groundwork for future cooperation related to our shared interests in food security, food safety and sustainability, as well as the expansion export opportunities for American farmers and ranchers."

(China Daily USA 03/11/2014 page1)