KY equine trade with China promises economic potential
By Ray Bowman
Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles, Bill Thomason, president and CEO, Keeneland Thoroughbred Racing and Sales, and Chauncey Morris, executive director, Kentucky Thoroughbred Association/Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders recently met with media representatives to celebrate the signing of a trade accord with China that allows the export of live horses to that country from the United States for the first time in two years.
“We believe that this trade deal not only benefits Kentucky, but it also strengthens Kentucky agriculture’s presence internationally,” Quarles told reporters. “We believe there will be an immediate positive economic impact due to the resumption of trade with China.”
Quarles says that 2 out of every three horses that are currently being exported from the United States come from Kentucky. “It’s estimated that the Chinese are buying between $20 and $30 million worth of horses each year,” Quarles noted. “Their racing industry is truly in its infancy and it is growing.”
In the 19th century, thoroughbred horse racing came to China due to British settlements but Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, banned horse racing in 1949 as a shameful capitalist pursuit. Racing was gradually re-established in the 1990’s and by 2014 horse racing returned to the Chinese mainland in earnest.
“In the past three years there has been a huge demand for all horses in China,” Chauncey Morris observed. “During the signing ceremony, both the U.S. ambassador and the Chinese minister made comments about the two largest economies in the world and the importance of them building strong cultural and economic ties.”
The agreement was signed by U.S. and Chinese officials in November, ending a ban that began in 2015 when concerns arose about a potentially fatal equine viral disease.
Bill Thompson remarked that Kentucky has built strong ties with equine enthusiasts across the globe, resulting in a robust demand for horses from the Commonwealth. “Because of the success and because of the experience they have had in this country, they end up coming back to this region, making more significant investments in Central Kentucky,” Thompson said. “We welcome China and we welcome this great announcement, it being another one of those places where we are going to be able to continue in central Kentucky with the great tradition of sending our thoroughbreds around the world.”
“We believe that we can begin to capture a significant part of this market almost immediately,” Quarles explained. “Next year, in 2018, we hope to have Chinese buyers here in Kentucky and as their racing industry continues to grow, it will help Kentucky’s economy grow as well.”
Thoroughbred sales represent perhaps the largest economic impact of the agreement with China, but Quarles says other breeds, such as saddlebreds and quarter horses, will benefit as well as those industries that support equine production and sales in the Commonwealth.
Quarles and University of Kentucky agriculture economist Will Snell agree that it’s far too early to start attaching dollar figures to this development, however Quarles says to consider that “just one planeload of horses that makes its way out of Bluegrass Airport headed for China will be a multi-million dollar deal.”
“Any opportunity with China, in terms of their growing population and growing income, is big. China is our number one agriculture trading partner,” Dr. Snell emphasized. “We know that if the world is looking for equines, they’re going to look here first. They’re going to come to Kentucky”