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China Warns Of WTO Challenge On Poultry

“Frankly, we’re not opposed to China seeking relief from the WTO, and we wish them success”

– JIM SUMNER, USA POULTRY AND EGG EXPORT COUNCIL

China said March 11 that it plans to file a complaint at the World Trade Organization about a U. S. law, renewed this month, that blocks imports of Chinese poultry products. A major U. S. poultry trade group, frustrated by its inability to get Congress to rescind what it sees as a hypocritical measure, said it supports China’s move.

“Frankly, we’re not opposed to China seeking relief from the WTO, and we wish them success,” said Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council. “We feel that China is not being dealt with fairly on this,” Sumner said in an interview.

The Chinese Commerce Ministry said it took issue with a section in the spending bill signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 11 that prohibits poultry imports from China.

The U. S. measure was “clearly unfair and malicious” and should be rescinded, Commerce Ministry spokesman Yao Jian said in a statement on the ministry’s website.

“China will file a case at the WTO and reserves the right to take further measures,” Yao said.

China was among the largest markets for U. S. poultry products in 2008, buying almost 754,000 tonnes valued at $677 million, according to industry data.

In 2006, the U. S. Agriculture Department moved to allow China to export processed poultry to the United States.

But Congress blocked the Food Safety and Inspection Service from implementing the regulation in fiscal 2008 with its appropriations bill funding the USDA. The bill prohibited USDA from implementing the regulation.

Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture, has argued Chinese poultry products are a public health risk because of bird flu and poor sanitary conditions at processing plants.

China has been hit by a series of food and product safety scandals in the past few years, ranging from fake drugs to the industrial chemical melamine being found in dairy products.

Yao said China’s poultry industry now meets international standards for safety and quality control and that there were no justifiable technical or food safety reasons for the United States to bar Chinese imports of cooked poultry.

Foreign countries that meet the same food safety requirements as U. S. industry should be allowed access to the U. S. market, Sumner said, noting U. S. poultry groups have met with Chinese officials to explain they oppose the measure.

“We would expect no less from any other country, so they should expect (the same treatment) from us,” Sumner said. “We can’t be talking out of both sides of our mouth.”

Both the U. S. and Chinese poultry sectors have been hit hard by the economic slowdown. Chinese poultry producers have also been hurt by production lost to outbreaks of bird flu.

If Beijing files a WTO complaint, it will be its fourth since it joined the WTO in 2001.

China has strongly criticized the “Buy American” provisions of the U. S. stimulus package, saying it is strongly opposed to any rise in protectionist measures in the wake of the global economic slowdown.

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