• A man fills a water tank for a cow at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 6, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa.

A man fills a water tank for a cow at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 6, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo : Getty Images)

American beef producers may soon get access to China for the first time in 13 years following the Chinese government's decision to lift the ban on U.S. beef on Thursday.

China shut its market to American beef after an outbreak of mad-cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was discovered in the U.S. in late 2003. But under the new regulations by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, American beef imports for cattle under 30 months of age will be accepted, according to a CNBC report on Friday.

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"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 (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

"This announcement is a critical first step to restore market access for U.S. beef and beef products," Vilsack added. "We look forward to prompt engagement by the relevant authorities for further technical discussions on the specific conditions that will allow trade to resume."

It is still not clear how American cattle traders will contend with China's quarantine requirements, but the news is welcomed by an industry that increasingly relies on global demand and a declining taste for beef at home.

"The United States produces the highest-quality beef in the world," Vilsack said. "And China's 1.3 billion consumers are an important market for U.S. producers."

The USDA forecasts China will overtake Japan as the second-largest beef importer after the U.S., with imports estimated to reach 825,000 by the end of 2016. The agency said rapidly rising demand for beef has been driven by middle-class growth and has made Chinese beef market the fastest-growing in the world.

"This is great news for U.S. beef producers," said Kent Bacus, director of international trade for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "While these initial reports are positive, we must continue technical negotiations and undergo the process of formally approving export certificates."

Overall, U.S. exports an estimated 14 percent of its total beef supplies. In 2015, U.S. beef exports reached a total of $5.8 billion to 122 countries.

The U.S. is also facing competition from Australia in selling beef to Japan and Korea, although more expensive Australian beef is expected to slow demand from that country next year and result in gains for American producers. Australia's beef prices have soared following to a reduction in the herd there due to severe drought conditions.