China's ruling Communist Party is trying to reduce the country's reliance on exports and investment and nurture more self-sustaining growth based on domestic consumption. That includes trying to encourage more consumer spending on restaurants, a key driver of liquor sales.
"It is expected that the introduction of Mexican-produced tequila in the food service sector will see an initial spark in demand because of its relative novelty," said Christopher Shanahan, food and agricultural program manager for Frost & Sullivan, a U.S. marketing analysis firm, in written comments to The Associated Press.
Still, tequila producers may run into the Chinese policy of doing whatever it takes to protect national products from foreign competition, Shanahan said.
In other words, they should take the promise of an open market for tequila with a lime and pinch of salt.
So far, that's not fazing Mexican tequila producers.
"We are well-armed to enter the market, withstand the competition and stay there," said Francisco Alcaraz, international director of Tequila Patron. The company, dedicated almost entirely to exports, already has markets in Singapore and Japan. It produced close to 5 million gallons of tequila in 2012 and exported 99.5 percent of it.
Tequila Patron's marketing executives are already studying China's culture to determine the best approach for selling tequila there.
"We hire people there to look at their customs, culture, gastronomy, to see how they pair their meals to bring out the best tasting experience," said David Rodriguez, production director based in Jalisco state, the agave heartland.
Beer is by far the most popular alcoholic beverage in China, which accounts for more than half of global consumption
For distilled spirits, the most popular are versions of baijiu, an eye-watering, strong traditional Chinese spirit. Cognac and whisky together represent about 90 percent of imported liquors, followed by vodka.
In Mexico, people sip tequila from shot glasses, sometimes with a chaser of tomato-based juice called sangrita. Some drink it with lime or mix it with grapefruit soda. In Japan, people drink tequila on the rocks or mix it with berries to make fruity cocktails, Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said it will take about two years to know if tequila will catch on in China.
"The Asian markets are seeking to westernize when it comes to prestigious brands, the brands consumers aspire to," he said.