Flickr CC/U.S. Department of Agriculture

After being banned for more than a decade, U.S. ranchers and cattle producers are expecting to bring American beef back to the dinner tables of nearly 1.4 billion Chinese people.

The breakthrough is one of the first results of the U.S.-China 100-Day Action Plan — a bilateral agreement following President Trump's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Mar-a-Lago Club in April.

The plan requests China “to allow imports of U.S. beef on conditions consistent with international food safety and animal health standards.” The shipments have to begin no later than July 16, 2017.

Since the agreement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been working with its Chinese counterpart on finalizing details of a protocol to make sure the shipments are meeting those standards. Two of its affiliating agencies — The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) — have already posted the related instructions for potential participants to follow.

The United States is the world’s largest beef producer and was the world’s fourth-largest exporter, with global sales of more than $5.4 billion in 2016, as the USDA release on Monday points out. And with its fast-growing economy, Chinese consumption of beef has been steeply increasing, from $275 million in 2012 to $2.5 billion in 2016.

Currently, the Chinese beef import market is dominated by other major beef-producing countries such as Australia, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, Canada, and Argentina, according to a report from Chinese consultancy agency Zhiyan.

Prior to the ban in 2003, the U.S. was China’s largest supplier of imported beef, providing 70 percent of their total intake, as the USDA release states. The ban was triggered by a case of mad-cow disease in Washington state, according to Bloomberg.

But to take advantage of this trade agreement is not that simple. According to the requirements posted on the AMS website:

  • Beef and beef products must be derived from cattle that were born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S., cattle that were imported from Canada or Mexico and subsequently raised and slaughtered in the U.S., or cattle that were imported from Canada or Mexico for direct slaughter.
  • Cattle must be traceable to the U.S. birth farm using a unique identifier, or if imported to the first place of residence or port of entry.
  • Beef and beef products must be derived from cattle less than 30 months of age.

All these requirements are precautions that aim at lessening the risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy — or mad cow disease — according to AP's reporting.

Derrell Peel, an agricultural economist at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, told Bloomberg that only “about 10 percent of U.S. cattle may meet traceability requirements.”

Although the actual economic impact of this trade deal remains unknown, U.S. officials are already buoyed by it.

“Today is a great day for the United States and in particular for our cattle producers, who will be regaining access to an enormous market with an ever-expanding middle class,” Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement. “I have no doubt that as soon as the Chinese people get a taste of American beef, they’ll want more of it.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer also praised the USDA's effort on finalizing these instructions to speed up the deal, saying the actions “are an important first step of this lucrative market,” during Monday's briefing.

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