DES MOINES, Iowa (KCRG) - In 2003, the U.S. beef industry exported two-thirds of China's beef imports, about 8,400 tons.
Then the market closed because of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a cattle disease.
But in the last 13 years, beef exports in China have grown exponentially. It now imports nearly 600,000 tons, about a 4500 percent increase.
The U.S. says beef exports may start up again as soon as this summer.
While the U.S. has been sitting on the sidelines, the industry hasn't been idle. Even a portion of the Chinese market would help out cattle producers.
The U.S. Meat Export Federation has kept open an office in China, educating potential buyers for the last decade and showing them the U.S. beef industry.
And there's a lot of opportunity, the upper Midwest grain-fed beef product is well received by international buyers.
Vice President of USMEF John Hinners says, "Constantly informing them of the food safety systems that we have in place, so your role may take a little different dimension in the market but you're constantly informing and educating them in the anticipation that the market opens up again."
Hinners says there's nearly 600 million people in China considered to be middle class, so exports for red meat products are expected to grow even more.
He adds there are still details to work out in a government to government negotiation to end the beef ban.