The Food Safety and Inspection Service said Friday (Aug. 30) that it has cleared the way for some fully-cooked chicken and turkey to be exported from Chinese processors into the United States. FSIS is a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and oversees poultry exports and imports as well as all domestic poultry processing.
The announcement comes on the heels of thorough plant inspections in China which took place in March. After several months of implementing minor changes, the F.S.I.S. deemed China’s poultry processing procedures to be on par with that in the U.S.
FSIS officials said certified establishments in the China may begin exporting processed (heat-treated/cooked) poultry products to the United States under certain conditions.
Initially, Chinese plants that get certification can ship cooked poultry for sale in the U.S. But one major stipulation is the cooked chicken and turkey must have been raised in the U.S. and Canada. In other words, U.S. processors would have to ship raw poultry to Chinese processors who then cook it and sell back to the U.S.
Industry trade groups in the U.S. applauded the USDA’s move to open up trade even at this limited level because it is a show of good faith in what has been contentious trade relations between domestic and Chinese poultry groups for several years.
The USA Poultry & Egg Export Council (USAPEEC) told The City Wire it welcomes last week’s announcement by FSIS that reaffirms the equivalence of China’s inspection system for processed poultry.
This is the culmination of more than six years of efforts led by USAPEEC and a coalition of industry organizations, including the National Chicken Council, the National Turkey Federation and the American Meat Institute, said Toby Moore, spokesman for the trade group.
Moore said the group firmly believes that recognition of China’s inspection system as equivalent to that of the U.S. will go a long way toward mending trade relations with China that have surfaced as a result of unfair and unjustified comments by organizations and politicians without a full understanding of the science or technical issues at hand.
“When it comes to China, one of the world’s largest economies, we have much more to gain than we have to lose. Does the U.S. welcome additional poultry imports? Not really, but then our industry is confident in its ability to compete effectively and efficiently in a global marketplace, and would much prefer to exist in an environment that is unconstrained by protectionism and artificial trade barriers. Free and open trade must mean free and open trade for all,” Moore said.
Cargill operates large turkey processing facilities in Springdale and Ozark and spokesman Michael Martin said those operations do help the company export some turkey to China.
“China has had a long-standing desire to export processed poultry to the U.S. and we view this as a positive development for greater free trade in the protein sector between the U.S. and China in the future,” Martin said.
Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest chicken processor, declined comment on the issue but rather deferred to it’s trade organization, the National Chicken Council.
China is a big customer for Tyson Foods, representing 27% of the company’s total international chicken sales last year. Tyson reported poultry sales to China worth $621 million in fiscal 2012. That includes exports to China and sales generated with Tyson’s in-country operations there.
“We certainly don’t look forward to many more imports, but we also realize free trade is a two-way street,” said Tom Super, spokesman for the National Chicken Council.
He said the industry hopes that China will look a little more favorably on U.S. chicken products and other agriculture imports in the future, following this move by the U.S. The U.S. poultry industry has been profitable this year thanks in part to strong exports to Mexico and elsewhere. But exports to China have carried hefty duties since the country imposed anti-dumping taxes to the incoming poultry products from the U.S. in 2010.
Last month the U.S. won its case with the World Trade Organization on behalf of chicken companies proving that China’s imposition of higher duties is “unjustified under international trade rules.” Super said after the duties were levied American export of chicken products to China dropped by 80%.
“A WTO dispute settlement panel agreed with the United States, finding that China violated numerous WTO obligations in conducting its investigations and imposing anti-dumping duties and countervailing duties on chicken imports from the United States,” Super said.
Moore said China has 45 days to appeal the WTO ruling but he is hopeful the recent actions by the FSIS will be viewed favorably and ease the challenging relations.
In 2011, U.S. trade officials said poultry sales to China were worth about $600 million a year. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. broiler chicken product exports were worth $3.1 billion in 2010, making up nearly 20% of all poultry exports.
Food Safety activists do not approve of the U.S. importing any of its food supply from China because of a stained track record the nation has had with tainted product. They said it will be impossible for U.S. consumers to know if the chicken they consume was processed in the U.S. or China, because the raw product will have originated in the U.S. or Canada there are no Country of Origin Labeling required.
FSIS officials said imported Chinese chicken will not be used by schools and federal food programs.