Colombia’s beef exports to China — banned by the Asian giant in 2009 over concerns over foot and mouth disease — will resume, the Colombian agriculture minister announced on Wednesday.

The agriculture ministers for both countries signed a memorandum of understanding that lifts the restriction due to foot and mouth disease, which in fact had already been eradicated in Colombia by 2009.

Agriculture Minister Francisco Esupiñan who took up his position Sunday, said the agreement is China’s “recognition of the sanitary management, the quality of product and of confidence in Colombia’s national authorities.”

China, which is Colombia’s second biggest export market after the United States, consumed more than five and a half million tons of beef in 2011, and Colombia is keen to get back into this market which is expected to reach eight million tons by 2019, making it one of the fastest growing markets in the world.

A report from the Ministry of Agriculture singled out China and Russia as the fastest growing markets with a taste for high-quality beef like that produced by Colombia, as opposed to the world’s largest exporter Brazil which produces more “commodity” than quality stock.

However government concerns about cattle smuggling from Venezuela are mounting, as diseases such as foot and mouth could re-enter the country, meaning Colombia would lose its disease-free status.

Colombia has the fourth largest beef herd in Latin America and the seventh worldwide with around 25 million heads of cattle. The country expects a 30% average annual growth until 2017.

Source: Colombia Reports