Hong Kong lifts beef restrictions, opening market opportunities

Hong Kong lifts beef restrictions, opening market opportunitiesAfter more than 11 years of restrictions inflicted upon U.S beef exports to Hong Kong, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on June 17 that the two countries have reached agreements fully opening Hong Kong's borders to U.S. beef and beef products.

In December 2003, U.S. beef and beef products were completely banned from the city-state, which is a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China giving it freedom to dictate its own rules and regulations.

The ban came after concerns were formed surrounding a positive case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), a chronic degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of cattle, was detected in the United States. Two years later in 2005, Hong Kong partially lifted the ban, accepting imports of deboned beef from U.S. cattle 30 month or younger in age. In February 2013, Hong Kong also began accepting certain U.S. beef bone-in cuts that meet the 30 month age limit."This is great news for American ranchers and beef companies," says Vilsack. "We look forward to expanded opportunities there for the U.S. beef industry now that all trade restrictions are lifted."

Hong Kong is currently the fourth largest market for U.S. beef and beef product exports, reaching historically high sales in 2013 with $823 million in import purchases of U.S. beef. In the first four months of 2014, U.S. beef and beef product exports to Hong Kong topped $307 million.

The world trade victory has received applause from industry groups, including the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

"As U.S. beef producers, we produce the best beef in the world," says NCBA president Bob McCan, a cattle producer from Victoria, Texas. "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."

The safe guards include prohibiting non-ambulatory cattle or cattle displaying clinical neurological and central nervous system disorders from entering the human food supply, along with strict feed regulations.

Proactive preventative measures by the U.S. have resulted in the World Organization for Animal Health placing the U.S. at the lowest risk standard for BSE.

"Last year, the World Organization for Animal Health granted the United States negligible risk status for BSE, further affirming the safety of U.S. beef and beef products," says Vilsack. "We welcome this move by Hong Kong and will continue our efforts to break down barriers and expand access for high-quality, safe and wholesome U.S. food and agricultural products in Hong Kong and around the world."

Ecuador, Mexico, Uruguay and Sri Lanka also lifted restrictions earlier this year, fully opening their borders to U.S. beef and beef products.