Mexico's tequila industry sees China fueling export boom
By Gabriel Stargardter
AMATITAN, Mexico Feb 11 (Reuters) - An expected surge in Chinese demand should boost Mexico's tequila exports by 20 percent within a decade, according to the regulator of the country's signature cactus-based liquor, and producers are gearing up for a boom.
On a visit to Mexico last August, Chinese President Xi Jinping lifted a ban on imports of premium blue agave tequila. China had objected to the relatively high levels of methanol in blue agave tequila, produced from fibers in the cactus' leaves.
Since the ban was lifted, Mexico has exported nearly 520,000 liters of mostly premium tequila to China, said Ramon Gonzalez, director of the national tequila regulator.
"I expect ... 30 million liters within the next 10 years," said Gonzalez, estimating that each of Mexico's 16 major tequila producers had invested up to $3 million to enter the Chinese market.
Foreign diplomats and trade officials also expect strong growth in the sector thanks to China.
Mexico currently exports about 170 million liters a year with just under 120 million liters heading to the United States. The expected Chinese demand would expand the industry by nearly 20 percent from current export levels.
Much like French Champagne or Italian Parmesan cheese, blue agave tequila has a protected designation of origin and can only come from five Mexican states: Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit and Tamaulipas.