The return of U.S. beef to the Chinese marketplace offers a glimpse of the essence of China-U.S. trade with both sides getting a bite of the juicy cuts.
To fulfill its pledge to boost bilateral economic ties as part of the U.S.-China 100-day action plan, China greenlighted the import of U.S. beef, ending a 14-year ban initially triggered by concerns over mad cow disease.
In reciprocity, the United States also greenlighted imports of cooked poultry from China.
China last week received the first shipment of U.S. beef, purchased by the country's Cofco Meat Holdings from U.S. meat processor Tyson Foods. It is only a matter of time before the tender and juicy cuts of meat hit the shelves of supermarkets and online retailers, and finally the dining tables of Chinese families.
Before the ban was enforced in 2003, the United States was China's largest overseas supplier of beef, providing over two thirds of China's imported beef. Some 14 years later, the market is vastly different.
With a rising middle class, China has become the world's fastest-growing consumer and second largest importer of beef products, after the United States.
Last year, the country imported 825,000 tonnes of beef at a total of 2.6 billion U.S. dollars, up from 15 million U.S. dollars in 2003.
Industry insiders predict China will become the world's largest beef market and a major importer of U.S. beef products. Adding to the market potential is China's changing tastes and a demand for higher quality steak.
In terms of its impact on U.S. beef producers and processors, the Chinese market is still in its infancy, but there are exciting opportunities ahead.
It's no wonder U.S. cattle producers are overjoyed. Beef-producing states are racing to capture a share of the lucrative Chinese market.
Nebraska's agriculture secretary is travelling to China to celebrate the arrival of the state's first beef shipment since 2003. Beef processors in Iowa, well-known for its corn-fed Angus beef, are busy preparing export documents.
On Friday, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and the new U.S Ambassador to China Terry Branstad will hold a ceremony in Beijing and cut into a prime rib to mark the return of U.S. beef to China.
As Perdue has put it, this is tremendous news for the beef industry, cattle farmers, and the U.S. economy in general.
"We will once again have access to the enormous Chinese market, with a strong and growing middle class, which had been closed to U.S. ranchers for a long time," he said.
Chinese consumers are delighted to have more choices.
While the ban was enforced, China imported beef primarily from Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and Uruguay. Now U.S. beef is a competitive alternative.
Cofco's first shipment of U.S. beef sold out quickly on its e-commerce platform Womai.com. Walmart has also put the top rated prime and choice grades of meat on its shelves.
It makes sense for Chinese consumers to get picky. The requirements for U.S. beef imports into China state that the cattle must have been born in the United States and never been fed any growth hormones. U.S. meat producers should not underestimate Chinese consumers' concerns about hormones added to meat.
The arrival of U.S. beef may also bring more competition to the local market. Insiders hope it will prompt the Chinese cattle industry to improve its value chain, raise efficiency, and lower prices.
The beef trade mirrors China-U.S. trade ties in general. Despite twists and turns, the relationship continues to move forward.
Bilateral trade has expanded from around 1 billion U.S. dollars, before diplomatic ties were established in 1976, to over 500 billion U.S. dollars in 2016.
Behind the numbers are more jobs, better quality of life, and lower costs of living for people in both countries. The world's top two economies have formed an inseparable relationship with shared interests.
An open and receptive mindset will help improve the flavor, tenderness, and juiciness of China-U.S. trade in the 21st century.