Negotiators See Progress on U.S.-China Beef Trade Protocol

By Susan Krause
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - The United States and China have made progress in negotiating an agreement that would allow for resumption of U.S. beef exports to China, according to a May 15 announcement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Delegations from the two countries met in Beijing May 13 and May 14 to discuss the terms of a science-based trade protocol, consistent with food-safety guidelines of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

The talks followed up on China's commitment - made a month earlier at the 17th meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) in Washington - to reopen its market to U.S. beef by June, following development of such a protocol.  (See related article.)

The JCCT - an annual dialogue among the two countries' senior officials in the areas of agriculture and trade - serves as a forum to identify and resolve trade problems and to expand commercial opportunities.

"We've made considerable progress with China during these discussions to reopen their market to U.S. beef and we will meet again soon to conclude the talks," said J.B. Penn, USDA's under secretary for farm and foreign agriculture services. 

Penn led the U.S. delegation, which included representatives of several USDA agencies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).  Ge Zhirong, China's vice minister for the administration of quality supervision inspection and quarantine, led his country's delegation, USDA said.

During the talks, the two sides also completed a memorandum of cooperation that would enable them to address food-safety issues on an ongoing basis, Penn said.

China and several other East Asian countries banned imports of U.S. beef when a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or "mad cow" disease) was confirmed in the United States in December 2003 in a single cow of Canadian origin.

Two other cases have been confirmed in the United States since then.  (See related article.)

But after two years of extensive testing, USDA reported in April that the incidence of BSE in the United States is extremely low, with no more than four to seven cases indicated in a cattle population of about 42 million.  (See related article.)

The United States has pushed for implementation of trade guidelines based on the scientific standards of the OIE, which oversees livestock safety issues for 167 member countries.

U.S. and Chinese officials expect to meet for a second round of talks within the next few weeks, according to a USDA spokesman.

Another team of USDA officials is traveling to Japan to continue discussions on resumption of U.S. beef trade to that country, the USDA announcement said.

Japan partially lifted a two-year ban on U.S. beef imports in December 2005, allowing the entry of boneless beef and beef products from cattle less than 30 months of age.  (See related article.)

Japan reinstated the ban in January 2006, after discovering prohibited bone fragments in a shipment of veal.  (See related article.)

For additional information, see Trade and Economics and East Asia and the Pacific.

The full text of the USDA announcement can be found at the department's Web site.