Last week, Hong Kong took the final step, allowing imports of the full range of U.S. beef and beef products. Last summer, Hong Kong had opened imports on U.S. muscle cuts, but processed meats were still restricted.
In December 2003, Hong Kong banned U.S. beef and beef products following the detection of a bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)-positive animal in the United States (one of only four cases ever discovered in America). In December 2005, Hong Kong partially reopened its market to allow imports of deboned U.S. beef from cattle aged 30 months or younger, produced under a special program for Hong Kong, and expanded access to include certain bone-in cuts from cattle less than 30 months of age in February 2013.
While the news is good, it is not necessarily expected to drastically change that market, according to Joe Schuele, U.S. Meat Export Federation Director of Communications.
“We’ve actually had pretty strong exports there,” Schuele told Western Livestock Journal. “Hong Kong was the first Asian market to reopen after the BSE case.”
Under the new terms, Hong Kong will permit the import of the full range of U.S. beef and beef products, consistent with access prior to December 2003. The new terms went into effect immediately, June17, 2014. Previously, only deboned beef from all cattle and certain bone-in beef from cattle less than 30 months of age could be shipped from the United States to Hong Kong. Earlier this year, Mexico, Uruguay, Ecuador and Sri Lanka also lifted their longstanding restrictions to provide full access for U.S. beef and beef products.
“This is great news for American ranchers and beef companies,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “Hong Kong is already the fourth largest market for U.S. beef and beef product exports, with sales there reaching a historic high of $823 million in 2013. We look forward to expanded opportunities there for the U.S. beef industry now that all trade restrictions are lifted.”
In the first four months of 2014, Hong Kong has imported more than $307 million in beef products.
Last year, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) granted the United States negligible risk status for BSE, Vilsack pointed out, reopening opportunities for U.S. exports.
While Hong Kong is officially part of China, it serves as its own customs and quarantine administration zone and so maintains its own rules and regulations.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President, Bob Mc- Can, a cattleman from Victoria, TX, says this is not only great news for cattlemen and women, but also a strong assurance that the interlocking safeguards put in place are working to build international market demand.
“As U.S. beef producers, we produce the best beef in the world,” said McCan. “The strong system of interlocking safeguards and protocols our industry put in place over 10 years ago have assured consumers, both domestically and abroad, of the safety of our product.”
“Cattle producers had a major victory in Paris last year, when the World Organization for Animal Health upgraded our risk status to negligible risk, the lowest risk standard, recognizing our strong commitment to beef safety,” said McCan. “And we applauded the USDA/APHIS in the finalization of the comprehensive BSE rule, which showed our trading partners and the world that we stand behind internationally-accepted science. This has brought the U.S. beef industry to the point now where we are exporting more than $6 billion of beef annually.”
Sixty-five nations implemented full or partial restrictions on U.S. beef imports following the 2003 BSE case. U.S. beef exports dropped to 322,000 metric tons in 2004 from 1.3 million metric tons in 2003.
With the Hong Kong market now fully open, USDA and USMEF are hoping others follow suit.
A delegation from China’s food safety agency is coming to the United States to look at American beef production. Schuele is hoping the trip will lead to China lifting its import ban of U.S. beef that was also placed in December of 2003.
China was the world’s fastest-growing beef market last year and the fifth-largest buyer of imported beef by volume.
“We are encouraged that we are able to get a regulatory committee together,” Schuele said.
The Chinese delegation will develop a report on their findings after spending two weeks in the United States.
Just last week, Canadian Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz announced that China has formally agreed to work with Canadian officials to provide access for bone-in beef from animals younger than 30 months old and for live cattle. The agreement came after Ritz met on Monday with Chinese Agriculture Minister Han Changfu and Wei Chuanzhong, China’s Vice Minister of General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor