Hong Kong and Japan Wrangle Up Benefits for North Dakota Cattle Ranchers

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by Sarah Wang
Hong Kong's recent lifting of restrictions on US beef imports means cows like these at North Dakota State University will make their way to the tables of Chinese consumers. Image: Flickr user David Haasser

With 9,600 beef producers calling the state home, North Dakota stands to benefit immensely from Hong Kong’s recent relaxing of restrictions on U.S. beef imports. Now all U.S. beef and beef products will be imported into Hong Kong, as opposed to only deboned beef or certain boned beef from cows 30 months or younger. In 2013, sales of U.S. beef and beef products reached $823 million, making Hong Kong the fourth largest market for U.S. beef in the world. In the first four months of 2014 alone, Hong Kong has already imported $307 million of beef from the US. With the new relaxation taking effect, many in North Dakota are hopeful that this will translate to even more sales to benefit their home state. According to North Dakota Agricultural Commissioner Doug Goehring, “That’s just going to create greater opportunities because we are able to get different cuts of meat in there now. We’ll be able to compete well with other countries sand it will put us in a position to capture some of that market share.”

North Dakota already has a decent market share in Hong Kong. Since 2011 the North Dakota Trade Office has had an official representative in Hong Kong, and in 2012 exports to Hong Kong grew 96% to $3.9 million. This May, North Dakota hosted the Hong Kong Economic & Trade Office of San Francisco, which held two trade events on May 8 and 9 to “discuss how North Dakota could use Hong Kong as a regional base to reach the Asian markets.” In 2012, 25 percent of North Dakota’s good exports went to Asia, and these relaxations on beef in Hong Kong could potentially increase that number. In particular, Hong Kong could serve as a base for eventual exports of North Dakota beef into China, which for the moment still has restrictions in place on U.S. beef.

Japan also eased its constraints on American beef imports this past January, providing another potential market with high returns for North Dakota beef producers. Even before this easing of restrictions, Japan was the number one importer of U.S. beef in 2013, with over 234,000 metric tons.  In North Dakota specifically, $280 million of its total exports were sent to Japan in 2012. Senator John Hoeven, a longtime proponent of North Dakota’s beef industry, welcomed Japan’s move as a “real gain for North Dakota ranchers” since it would give them “more opportunities to expand their exports and grow their businesses.” When asked about Hong Kong’s recent relaxation on U.S. beef exports, Senator Hoeven told Asia Matters for America,“Hong Kong consumers clearly value quality North Dakota beef, and given the overseas markets we have worked hard to cultivate and the productivity of our producers, we are in a great position to meet that demand while creating good jobs for our state. In fact, we have also worked to open new markets for North Dakota beef elsewhere in Asia, including South Korea. A few years ago, I visited Seoul to promote the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement, which we ratified in 2011. South Korea is a tremendous market for North Dakota beef, making the agreement a win for everyone.”

Sarah Batiuk is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington.