China opens door to Malheur beef

By Pat Caldwell

The Enterprise

VALE — A new trade pact inked earlier this month could help ranchers in Malheur County and across the nation.

For the first time in more than 10 years American beef producers will gain access to markets in China and more than a billion customers under the terms of the agreement announced earlier this month.

China banned U.S. beef imports in 2003 after a case of mad cow disease in an American cow.

“I think it will benefit the whole beef industry. We will get to sell more beef overseas and I would hope see some upward price mobility,” said Chris Christenson, president of the Malheur County Cattlemen’s Association.

The cattle industry is one of Malheur County’s biggest economic engines, producing more than $175 million a year, more than any other county in the state, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As part of the agreement China will be allowed to export poultry into the U.S.

Access to the Chinese market carries big implications for national, state and local beef producers. Asia as a whole is a big importer of American beef.

“Exports are already up 25 percent from a year ago and with China coming on the market the whole thing is positive as far as prices go,” said Christenson.

John O’Keeffe, the president of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, said with the China market open for business, beef prices should go up.

“There is tremendous potential of trade in China. I think this is good,” said O’Keefe.

Ron Rowan, chairman of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association’s marketing committee, agreed.

“We have been selling to China indirectly through Hong Kong and Vietnam for several years. But having direct access to the Chinese market could be a real big deal,” said Rowan.

Now, Rowan said, the devil will be in the details of the trade pact.

“The biggest issue on it now is we need to know what the specifics are on the terms of the type of product they want,” said Rowan.

Christenson said there are no adverse implications to the pact.

“This is going to be direct trade so I can’t see anything negative about that,” he said.