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China removes threat of total ban on US poultry if bird flu is found

(Reuters) - China has promised it will not impose a nationwide ban on imports of US poultry if the United States finds cases of avian flu, an industry group said, a policy change that could help Beijing fulfill commitments to buy more American farm goods.

23 March 2020, at 4:00pm

The agreement follows a Phase 1 deal to end a prolonged trade war between the world's two largest economies and highlights China's need for more imported meat as it battles a fatal pig disease.

Beijing banned imports of US poultry and eggs in January 2015 because of a US outbreak of highly pathogenic, or virulent, avian flu, closing a market worth $500 million in 2013, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

China lifted the ban in November 2019 as the countries sought to finalise the deal to ease their trade war, benefiting US chicken companies like Tyson Foods and Pilgrim's Pride.

"We've been waiting for this," said Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council, a trade group. "It gives everybody reassurance that we're not going to see a repeat of what happened in 2015."

The USDA did not respond to requests for comment about the new agreement over avian flu.

China, in the trade deal signed on Jan. 15, promised to buy at least an additional $12.5 billion worth of US farm products in 2020 and at least $19.5 billion in 2021 over the 2017 level of $24 billion.

The agreement over avian flu reflect Beijing's "friendly attitude" toward imports, said Li Qiang, chief analyst with Shanghai-based JCI, a leading agriculture consultancy in China.

"It shows that under the initial Sino-US trade deal, China is trying its best to increase imports of US agriculture products, on the precondition of guaranteeing prevention of the disease," Li said.

Beijing also recently made US poultry eligible for exemptions to retaliatory duties.

If avian flu is found in the United States, China will restrict imports from the state where the case is detected, rather than the whole country, according to the export council. The suspension may be lifted if there are no new cases for three months following the disposal of the last case, the group said.

There will be no trade restrictions for less-virulent cases of low pathogenic bird flu, according to the export council.

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) this week confirmed outbreaks of low-pathogenic flu in turkeys in the US state of North Carolina.