USDA on Wednesday announced that the United States and Hong Kong have agreed on new terms and conditions that pave the way for expanded exports of U.S. beef and beef products to Hong Kong.
Under the new terms, Hong Kong will permit the import of the full range of U.S. beef and beef products, consistent with access prior to December 2003. The new terms became effective June 17.
"This is great news for American ranchers and beef companies," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "Hong Kong is already the fourth largest market for U.S. beef and beef product exports, with sales there reaching a historic high of $823 million in 2013.
"We look forward to expanded opportunities there for the U.S. beef industry now that all trade restrictions are lifted," he added.
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In December 2003, Hong Kong banned U.S. beef and beef products following the detection of a bovine spongiform encephalopathy-positive animal in the United States.
In December 2005, Hong Kong partially reopened its market to allow imports of deboned U.S. beef from cattle aged 30 months or younger produced under a special program for Hong Kong and expanded access to include certain bone-in cuts from cattle less than 30 months of age in February 2013.
Earlier this year, Mexico, Uruguay, Ecuador and Sri Lanka also lifted their longstanding restrictions to provide full access for U.S. beef and beef products.
The recent changes come as the World Organization for Animal Health last year granted the United States negligible risk status for BSE.
"Cattle producers had a major victory in Paris last year, when the World Organization for Animal Health upgraded our risk status to negligible risk, the lowest risk standard, recognizing our strong commitment to beef safety," said Bob McCan, National Cattlemen's Beef Association President. "And we applauded the USDA/APHIS in the finalization of the comprehensive BSE rule, which showed our trading partners and the world that we stand behind internationally-accepted science. This has brought the U.S. beef industry to the point now where we are exporting more than $6 billion of beef annually.
"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," McCan said.
Experts in the United States and countries around the world have confirmed that U.S. beef is safe, with extremely low risk of BSE. There has never been a recorded case of BSE transmission to a human through American beef.
While Hong Kong is officially part of China, it serves as its own customs and quarantine administration zone and so maintains its own rules and regulations.
In the first four months of 2014, Hong Kong has already imported more than $307 million worth of U.S. beef.