WASHINGTON, June 12, 2017 –  U.S. and Chinese negotiators have finalized a deal to lift China’s 13-year ban on U.S. beef, the USDA announced today.

The accord, as previously reported by Agri-Pulse, includes protocols that are generally favorable to the U.S. cattle industry and beef exporters. They include China’s agreement to accept imports of a long list of bone-in and deboned beef cuts.

U.S. negotiators, who have been meeting with their Chinese counterparts here and in Beijing for months, made their final trip to China last week to take part in the final “technical meeting” on the deal, although the protocols have been in place for about a month.

One of the key provisions in the protocols is China's agreement to accept beef from cattle slaughtered under the age of 30 months. At first the U.S. wanted China to agree to no age limit on the cattle, but the Chinese insisted on the same terms as the U.S. agreed to with Japan and South Korea, according to government sources.

Still, the under-30-month agreement is considered a success by industry officials because most cattle are slaughtered before cattle reach that age. Getting China to agree to bone-in cuts was also a success. Chinese negotiators had demanded early on that the ban only be lifted on boneless cuts, which are considered to be less risky when it comes to the threat posed by bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.

China first banned U.S. beef in December 2003, after BSE was discovered for the first time in U.S. herds, in a dairy cow that was slaughtered for beef production.

China imports far more beef now that it did in 2003 and the U.S. cattle and beef industries are anxious to get back into the quickly expanding market.

“In recent years, China has become one of the largest import markets for beef, and these terms are a reflection of China's trust in the safety and quality of U.S. beef,” said Craig Uden, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA). “We hope that by getting our foot in the door we can develop a long lasting and mutually beneficial relationship with China."

The U.S. is not expected to get a major share of the Chinese market soon. That’s because Australia – also a major beef exporting country – has negotiated reduced tariffs in the free trade agreement it has with China. The agreement between the two countries will completely remove by 2024 Chinese tariffs on Australian beef that currently range between 12 percent and 25 percent.

Another success scored by U.S. negotiators is China's agreement to accept beef from cattle that are enrolled in a voluntary traceability system run by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. That was a potential deal-breaker for U.S. negotiators. China had wanted the USDA to implement a mandatory traceability system, but U.S. cattle ranchers were widely opposed to that.

The Chinese agreed to the U.S. proposal of a “bookend system” that essentially requires documentation only on where the animals were born and where they were slaughtered.

Details of the voluntary traceability system that China did agree to can be seen on the AMS website. Participating U.S. companies will also eventually be listed, but as yet none are there.

“As one of the world's largest importers of beef, China has long been an area of great opportunity for the U.S. beef industry,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said. “Well, today that ‘great opportunity’ becomes one step closer to reality for cattle producers across the country, hopefully bringing an end to a 13-year drought on beef exports to China.”

However, a key component to getting China to lift its ban on U.S. beef will have nothing to do with the safety or traceability of U.S. beef. U.S. industry and government officials have said for years that, unofficially, China would never lift the ban until the U.S. lifted its ban on Chinese chicken.

There was no mention of Chinese chicken in the announcement today, but it was listed in an announcement last month from the Commerce Department, lauding the initial results of a “100-Day Action Plan” that was first agreed to during an April meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“The United States and China are to resolve outstanding issues for the import of China origin cooked poultry to the United States as soon as possible, and ,after reaching consensus, the United States is to publish a proposed rule by July 16, 2017, at the latest, with the United States realizing China poultry exports as soon as possible,” according to the May announcement from Commerce.