We recently reported that Australia is the only country in the world with a protocol approved for the importation of live feeder and slaughter cattle to China.
We were wrong – since that report we have been informed by a Uruguayan cattle industry stakeholder that China and Uruguay signed a protocol in December 2016 allowing the import of beef cattle from Uruguay for fattening and slaughter.
Uruguayan Brangus beef producer, importer and distributor Conrado Beckerman, CEO of Feeds Co Ltd which has had a base in Shanghai since 2005, told us that some shipments of Angus heifers have been exported from Uruguay to China this year, in ships also carrying Holsteins.
A shipment of 5900 mostly empty Angus, Hereford and Holando (a dual-purpose dairy and beef breed) heifers left Montevideo in mid-July and arrived at the Port of Tianjin south east of Beijing after 38 days at sea in mid-August. The consignment is currently in quarantine and expected to remain there until later this month.
Uruguayan newspaper El Pais reported in its rural section Rurales last Wednesday that the Uruguayan heifers were bought by a private investor to locate in their own fields and to commercialise to other producers in inner Mongolia.
Juan Martín Scasso, director of Uruguayan export company Agrosocio told the newspaper the purpose of the consignment is for breeding,
China’s live cattle import protocol with Australia has the most stringent conditions of any cattle protocol Australia has with other countries. Mr Scasso suggested the Uruguayan protocol is more stringent than the protocol China has with Australia, telling El Pais Rurales: “Our agreement with China is one of the most complex that exists and means costs that competition does not have”.
Conditions in the China-Uruguay protocol include a requirement for all cattle imported for slaughter to be processed within 14 days of entering China, and requires cattle imported for fattening to be slaughtered within three years of entering China.
Cattle are also required to spend at least 30 days in pre-export quarantine before departing Uruguay. Livestock cannot have been treated with growth promoting hormones.
The recent shipments from Uruguay have involved breeding cattle, not steers for fattening and slaughter.
However, it also seems that the distances involved between China and Uruguay make the economics of the trade challenging for slaughter cattle. The shipment reported above from Uruguay to China took a reported 38 days, while the Australia to China sea-journey takes about 12 days.
Higher prices in China made it possible for Uruguay to export, Mr Scasso said, but, internal costs, and principally the long-sea voyage, meant Uruguay was not as competitive on price as Australia.
He described the July shipment as a test shipment that will help Chinese customers and Uruguayan exporters to evaluate the likely future of the business.
Mr Scasso said the cattle were excellent quality and had arrived with good conditions.
One Australian exporter told Beef Central that China has also signed a cattle import protocol with Chile, but we have no further details on that protocol.