Analysts link decision to Chinese poultry import issue

By CAROL RYAN DUMAS

Capital Press

The ailing U.S. pork industry welcomed the announcement that China plans to lift its ban on U.S. pork and live swine.

The National Pork Producers Council credits action by Congress to lift a ban on poultry imports from China with reopening U.S. pork exports to what had been the industry's fastest growing market.

Pork exports to China were valued at $690 million in 2008. U.S. pork exports to China from January through August were down by 50 percent compared to the same period last year.

Opinions vary on how much the decision to lift the U.S. ban on China's poultry exports influenced lifting the ban on pork.

"We think that lifting the ban on Chinese chicken did help," said Dave Warner, director of communications for National Pork Producers Council.

National Pork was part of a coalition of ag and business organizations that urged Congress to look closely at the ban on Chinese poultry.

The group was pleased that language was included in the Fiscal Year 2010 Ag Appropriations Bill to allow USDA to complete a risk assessment of China's poultry processing, he said.

"It sends a strong signal to China that the U.S. abides by its trade obligations and will base decisions about imports on sound science," NPPC President Don Butler said following the decision. "We expect China to do the same."

Last week, however, Reuters reported that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said China's decision to lift the ban on U.S. pork was not related to the United States lifting its ban on Chinese poultry products.

Steve Meyer, president of Paragon Economics, which publishes the Daily Livestock Report, ties the two together.

In his Oct. 29 report, Meyer said China's ban on U.S. pork, attributed to H1N1, was a red herring, as China was looking for leverage in the dispute over the U.S. ban on Chinese cooked chicken.

Congress reversed its decision on preventing USDA from even doing a risk assessment on Chinese chicken, and three weeks later, "lo and behold, China is apparently no longer in fear of H1N1 influenza," he wrote.

Jim Herlihy, vice president of communications for the U.S. Meat Export Federation, said he wasn't present at the trade discussion on the issue, so it's difficult for him to say how much bearing lifting the ban on poultry had on China's willingness to lift its ban on U.S. pork.

"I'm sure there are a lot of factors involved in this decision," he said. "We're just hoping all the markets will be open and all the decisions will be based on sound science."

National Pork agrees with his assessment.

"We think everyone ought to have their trade decision, safety of the product, based on science," Warner said.

National Pork is asking the administration to continue working with the Chinese government on its ban on U.S. pork produced with ractopamine, an FDA-approved feed additive that improves efficiency in pork production.

The organization also wants the administration to address the subsidies China provides its domestic pork producers and tax exemptions enjoyed by the Chinese pork industry, both of which hamper U.S. pork exports to the country.

Since September 2007, the U.S. pork industry has lost $5.5 billion, with producers losing an average of about $23 per pig over the past two years, Warner said.

A timeline for lifting the ban on U.S. pork has not yet been announced.

Following the April 24 news of a discovery of H1N1 influenza in humans, which was often referred to as swine flu, U.S pork saw its entry into several countries, including China, restricted.

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