In the tropical Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, a wealthy farming hub on the edge on the Amazon rainforest, President Evo Morales gathered with ranchers late last month to celebrate a maiden shipment of beef to China.

An elaborate ceremony was staged to mark what was supposed to be a crowning achievement in Morales' plan to make Bolivia a global foods supplier — entry to China's massive market just as Beijing shops around for alternatives to U.S. producers.

"This is just another tool to ensure we continue growing economically," said Bolivia's first indigenous president, who often goes by the name "Evo," at the Aug. 28 event. The country plans to send 8,000 tons of beef to China next year, he added.