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Push China on chicken, senators urge

by Nathan Owens | March 1, 2019 at 1:56 a.m.

Arkansas Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman want China to reopen its market to U.S. poultry after being shut out since 2015.

They are two of nine U.S. senators with ties to the chicken industry who signed a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer urging him to discuss the matter in trade negotiations with China.

"We urge you to use this opportunity to support America's farmers by securing duty-free access for U.S. agricultural products and lifting the Chinese ban on U.S. poultry products," they said in the letter.

China imposed the ban on U.S. poultry in 2015 over an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza, also known as bird flu. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it was the largest outbreak ever recorded. The viruses may cause coughing, sneezing, decreased egg production, diarrhea, lack of energy or sudden death among flocks.

More than 150 people across 21 states were exposed to bird flu viruses between December 2014 and June 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of the 164 exposures, 62 were exposed to poultry on commercial farms. No human infections with these viruses have been detected.

China removed its anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties on U.S. broiler chickens in February 2018 but the ban remains in place.

Total poultry exports to China peaked in 2008, with an exported value of $722 million, according to the U.S. Poultry and Egg Council. Domestic meatpackers in recent years have felt ban-related effects. They shipped $1.3 million worth of chicken meat to Chinese buyers in 2017, compared with $248 million in 2014, according to USDA data.

China's appetite for chicken feet, dark meat and other products less enticing to Western customers has made the loss particularly painful for U.S. chicken-only processors such as Sanderson Farms, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Tyson Foods of Springdale is more insulated from chicken-related incidents, compared with producers like Sanderson Farms, because of its beef, pork and prepared-foods businesses.

The first detection of bird flu was recorded in California, and spread during the period to 21 states, including Arkansas. Minnesota recorded 110 cases and Iowa had 77, making them the two states with the most cases, data show. Arkansas, one of the largest U.S. poultry producers, recorded a single case of bird flu in a commercial turkey flock on March 9, 2015, in Boone County.

The senators in the letter argue that access to China's market would "strengthen the economies of our rural communities, supporting hundreds of thousands of workers who are employed by the poultry industry."

Poultry is the largest agricultural product in Arkansas, in terms of cash receipts, accounting for almost 40 percent of the state's total, according to data with the USDA from 2017. Chickens raised for meat consumption, also known as broilers, were the largest contributor, worth $3.8 billion.

In Arkansas, chicken broiler exports peaked in 2013, when they were worth an estimated $500 million, according to cash receipt data last updated Oct. 25 with the USDA. When China imposed its ban two years later, state exports fell to $346 million. Since then broiler exports have recovered slightly for Arkansas. In 2017, they totaled $395.7 million.

Other Arkansas poultry product exports, such as turkey meat and eggs, peaked in 2014, when they were worth $146.6 million. They were valued at $129.7 million in 2017.

Open trade with China of U.S. chicken products would be huge, said Travis Justice, chief economist of the Arkansas Farm Bureau.

"The potential is great for anything, considering the volumes of mouths to feed," Justice said about China's size and population.

Arkansas' total share of exports to China fell more than 50 percent to $203 million in 2015, according to census data, down from $437 million the year before. Most of the state's exports go to Canada, Mexico or France. Top 2017 exports were aircraft, engines and parts, followed by rice, and frozen chicken cuts.

Cotton and Boozman signed the letter dated Feb. 22, along with U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Doug Jones, D-Ala., Mark Warner, D-Va., Maryland Democrats Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin and Delaware Democrats Christopher Coons and Tom Carper. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue also received a copy of the letter.

Business on 03/01/2019

Print Headline: Push China on chicken, senators urge

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