BEIJING (Reuters) - China has conditionally lifted an import ban on some shipments of U.S. boneless beef and beef on the bone, and will also ease restrictions on Canadian beef, the Asian nation's agriculture ministry and its premier said on Thursday.
The lifting of the ban applies to imports of beef from cattle that are under 30 months old, according to a statement posted on the Ministry of Agriculture's website. The move remains subject to completion of quarantine requirements, which will be issued later, the ministry said, without providing further details.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told a business dinner in New York on Tuesday that China would soon allow imports of beef on the bone from the United States.
On Thursday in Ottawa, Li said China was also ready to lift restrictions on bone-in Canadian beef.
China banned U.S. beef imports after the discovery of a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, in Washington state in late 2003.
"I welcome the announcement from China's Ministry of Agriculture that it has lifted its ban on U.S. beef following a recently concluded review of the U.S. supply system," U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement on Thursday.
China's action is a critical first step in restoring market access for beef from the United States, and Washington is looking forward to prompt discussions with Chinese authorities on specific conditions to allow trade to resume, said Vilsack.
Some U.S. meat groups also embraced China's move, but said further negotiations are needed between both countries to formally end the 13-year ban.
"This is great news for U.S. beef producers,” Kent Bacus, director of international trade for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said via email.
While the immediate news is positive, the next step is for USDA officials to work with China regarding export protocols, Bacus added.
U.S. Meat Export Federation President and CEO Philip Seng called China's announcement an "important first step in the process of resuming beef exports to China."
Seng said USMEF awaits details of remaining steps needed to officially open the market to allow U.S. suppliers to begin shipping product.
In 2003, China imported 12,000 tonnes of beef valued at $15 million, including $10 million from the United States, according to the USDA.
The agency said that in recent years overall Chinese beef imports have grown significantly, hitting a record $2.3 billion in 2015, fueled by a growing middle class.
(Reporting by Beijing Monitoring Desk; Additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Theopolis Waters in Chicago; Editing by Paul Simao and Matthew Lewis)