U.S. beef might be going back to China after market was halted by BSE in 2003

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A top official with Toppenish-based AB Foods said his company and others will benefit from the resumption of U.S. beef exports to China.

The federal government on Monday announced that it has taken steps to resume commercial shipment of U.S. beef and beef products to China for the first time since 2003.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it had reached an agreement with Chinese officials on the protocol that would allow the U.S. to resume beef exports. That protocol is outlined in a technical document that the agency released Monday.

China banned U.S. beef after mad cow disease was discovered in a Lower Valley dairy cow.

Brad McDowell, president of AB Foods, said that he was aware of ongoing efforts to resume beef exports to China and had worked, through various associations, on negotiations with China. He believes China, with its rapid economic growth, is an ideal market.

According to USDA figures, China increased agricultural imports from $275 million in 2012 to

$2.5 billion in 2016. Until the ban took effect more than 14 years ago, the U.S. was China’s largest supplier of beef, providing 70 percent of the country’s total imports.

“Anytime we can open another global market, it tends to create opportunities for us as well as the industry as a whole,” McDowell said.

AB Foods, which exports beef to more than 30 countries, including several in Asia, employs more than 900 at its Toppenish processing plant.

McDowell said he has not yet read the technical documents posted by the Department of Agriculture and said it would be premature to comment on whether the company will export beef to China.

However, he said, “even if someone else chooses to participate and we do not, it still opens up other avenues” for AB Foods.

The technical documents outline several rules companies must follow if they want to export to China, including that beef must come from cattle less than 30 months of age and the birthplace must be tracked for any cattle born in the U.S. and used for beef that is destined for export to China.