First US beef exports on the way to China by plane, ending a 14-year ban by Beijing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 June, 2017, 6:45am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 June, 2017, 6:45am

The first shipment of US beef to China under a new trade deal went airborne on Wednesday, a Nebraska meat company said, just two days after Washington finalised details to resume exports, ending a 14-year ban.

Greater Omaha Packing Co said it shipped beef by plane to China from Nebraska, a top US beef producing state, to meet strong demand.

“They want it right away,” Chief Executive Officer Henry Davis said about Chinese consumers.

Beijing banned US beef imports in 2003 after a US scare over mad cow disease, but last month agreed to allow US shipments by mid July as part of a broader trade deal.

Talks moved quickly, and US officials said on Monday they had finalised requirements for exports.

China is the world’s fastest growing beef market, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and its imports increased to US$2.5 billion last year from US$275 million in 2012.

To win business, Greater Omaha Packing has hired bilingual salespeople from China, Davis said. He added that the company had received hundreds of phone calls in recent months about sales to China from potential customers and distributors.

To make the first shipment, the company, which exports to other countries, affixed labels in English and Chinese on every box of beef on the flight, Davis said.

“We’d never done Chinese before,” he said.

US Agriculture Department finalises rules as beef exports to China get closer to restarting

So far, only Greater Omaha Packing and Tyson Foods , the biggest US meat company, have processing plants approved by the USDA to ship beef to China.

Tyson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Tuesday, Cargill, another major beef processor, said that only a small percentage of the total current US cattle supply would qualify for exports to China under the terms of the new trade agreement.

The deal requires US producers to track the birthplace of cattle born in the United States that are destined for export to China and take other steps.

Some US producers still view the market as lucrative, given China’s expanding middle class.

The US Meat Export Federation, a trade group, said this week that China’s import requirements will add costs for producers.

However, CEO Philip Seng said “China holds exciting potential for the US beef industry and for buyers in the market who have waited a very long time for the return of high-quality US beef.”