MANHATTAN, Kan. — It’s been nearly 14 years since China allowed sales of U.S. beef in that country, but that may be about to change. And that’s very good news for

the U.S. beef and cattle industry, according to a Kansas State University agricultural economist.

“As the most populated country in the world, with a large and growing middle-income class, gaining direct access to China is one of the most positive developments the U.S. beef industry could ask for,” said Glynn Tonsor, livestock marketing specialist with K-State Research and Extension, commenting on news that a deal was struck between Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump in an earlier April meeting.

China, however, agreed previously to end a ban on U.S. beef it had imposed in 2003. But conditions on opening that market have yet to be worked out. China, along with many other countries, imposed the ban in 2003 when a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also called mad cow disease, was confirmed in a cow in the U.S.

With a population of more than 1.3 billion people, China presents a huge potential market for U.S. beef. By comparison, the U.S. population is 324 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Over the past 10 years, Japan, with a population of 127 million, has been the biggest importer of U.S. beef.

Tonsor said he and other economists expect overall meat demand to grow at a faster rate outside the U.S. than inside the country.

“While we live in an era of fairly widespread skepticism around the net benefits of global trade, it is important to recognize a key fact as a U.S. cattle producer: Any time you can sell your product to consumers who most value it, the higher the collective sales value of beef products (and the cattle they originate from) will be,” Tonsor said. “Gaining and retaining access to a larger set of candidate consumers is vital to the ability to accomplish this.”

The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) reported that Japan continued to solidify its position as the leading volume and value market for U.S. beef, with February exports climbing 48 percent from a year ago in volume (23,789 mt) and 55 percent in value ($134.3 million).

Japanese import data showed that U.S. beef overtook Australian beef in the first two months of the year, with U.S. market share climbing to 45.6 percent while Australia’s dropped to 44 percent.

According to the USMEF, strong momentum continued for U.S. beef in Korea, where February exports increased 11 percent to 13,093 mt valued at $86 million (up 26 percent).

Other highlights for U.S. beef included:

-- Exports within North America are off to a solid start in 2017, with January-February exports to Mexico increasing 14 percent from a year ago in volume (36,235 mt) and 3 percent in value ($147.4 million). Exports to Canada are showing signs of a rebound, with volume up 11 percent to 19,446 mt and value up 18 percent to $123.5 million.

-- Beef exports to two key South American markets increased significantly in value through February, with exports to Chile up 22 percent year-over-year and exports to Peru up 68 percent.

-- A rebound in the Philippines and continued growth in Vietnam pushed January-February beef exports to the ASEAN region up 33 percent in volume.

-- Strong growth to most Asian markets helped offset a slowdown to Hong Kong, where January-February volume was down 21 percent to 16,131 mt, valued at $104.7 million (down 12 percent).

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