Montana Senator Talks Beef with China Premier Before Lifting of Ban

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by Genna Liu
Senator Steve Daines presents Montana steaks to Premier Li Keqiang during talk about lifting Chinese ban on US beef imports. [Image: Senator Steve Daines]

During his visit to China over the congressional Easter break, Montana Senator Steve Daines presented China Premier Li Keqiang with an unusual gift – four steaks in a red cooler. The steaks, produced by a Montana rancher, were used by Senator Daines to emphasize the safety of US produce and to illustrate the benefits of opening the Chinese market to US beef. Less than one month later, US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping arrived at a deal to do exactly that.

Senator Daines was joined by Senators Rob Portman, John Barrasso, and John Kennedy, and Representatives Chris Stewart and Brad Wenstrup. The group also stopped in Chengdu, Lhasa, and Hong Kong, and met with National People’s Congress Chairman Zhang Dejiang and Vice Chairman Zhang Ping, among others.

Until April, China enforced a ban on US beef imports that was implemented after a Washington dairy cow was diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy — mad cow disease — in 2003. With the Chinese government lifting the ban, Montana – the US’s 11th largest cattle producer – will be able to export to the world’s second largest beef importer. China is currently Montana’s third largest trading partner, with the state’s exports to China totaling $103 million in 2016.

Montana has deep diplomatic and collaborative ties with China. The state maintains sister state relations with the equally mountainous Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. In 2014, Montana Governor Steve Bullock led a trade delegation to China to discuss private enterprise opportunities and business collaborations. A Chinese trade delegation reciprocated his interest the following year and visited Montana to discuss investment and trade opportunities. In addition, former Montana Senator Max Baucus served as the US Ambassador to China from 2014 to 2017 and was instrumental in developing the US-China Bilateral Investment Treaty as well as in bringing China into the World Trade OrganizationSince 2013, Montana and China have engaged in an art exchange program titled “West on the Left, East on the Right” that allows artists to explore new ideas and styles. The program led to the sale of 90 Montana art pieces in China in 2014. The University of Montana also hosted an exchange program in 2014 that focused on sports engagement for persons with disabilities.

Genna Liu is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a government and economics student at Dartmouth College.