U.S. Beef Debuts in China After 14 Years, May Help Balance Trade

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. aims to export more high-quality and safe farm products to China to help balance trade between the two countries as it marks its first shipment of beef in 14 years.

“We can provide more safe, high-quality food products for the consumers here in China, a key part of improving our relationship and reducing our trade deficit,” U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad told reporters in Beijing on Friday. “U.S. beef exports to China is a new beginning.”

China has re-started imports of U.S. beef, lifting a ban put in place in 2003 that was triggered by a case of mad cow disease in Washington state. China, the world’s largest pork producer and consumer, has seen beef demand climb as more people adopt Western-style eating habits. China’s beef imports hit $2.5 billion last year, with total shipments at 579,836 tons, according to official customs data.

The U.S. also hopes that China can approve more traits of genetically modified corn and soybeans and finalize an agreement on rice, Bransted told China’s Agriculture Minister Han Changfu during a meeting with visiting U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

“U.S. beef is high-quality and is popular among our consumers and we will surely expand imports,” said Li Zhengfang, deputy general manager with COFCO Meat Holdings Ltd., at the sidelines of the event. COFCO imported the first shipment of U.S. beef last week and said China’s beef supply will be in deficit for long period of time due to rising demand and limited domestic resources.

U.S. beef was offered on COFCO’s online shop on Friday, with a 180 gram rib-eye steak sold at 75 yuan ($11). Australian beef sold at 72 yuan.

U.S. grain-fed beef is not aiming to compete with grass-fed beef from Brazil, which is now China’s largest supplier, but give consumers more choice, said Joel Haggard, U.S. Meat Export Federation’s senior vice president for Asia-Pacific. More Chinese are consuming steak, barbecue and hotpot, he said.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Niu Shuping in Beijing at nshuping@bloomberg.net.

With assistance from Niu Shuping