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Lawmakers reach chicken import deal

WASHINGTON -- House and Senate conferees on the fiscal year 2010 agriculture appropriations bill reached a compromise on restrictions on the importation of poultry products from China, House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rosa D...

WASHINGTON -- House and Senate conferees on the fiscal year 2010 agriculture appropriations bill reached a compromise on restrictions on the importation of poultry products from China, House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., announced Sept. 25.

The compromise that will allow Agriculture Department rulemaking to allow the imports to go forward under certain circumstances has positive implications for all of U.S. agriculture that exports to China or hopes to export to China. Agriculture Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Jim Miller also has said that the ban on rulemaking has made it difficult to negotiate with the Chinese on other farm issues.

At DeLauro's insistence, the House version of the bill contained a measure continuing a ban on USDA moving forward with rulemaking to allow the entry of Chinese-processed poultry into the United States.

Congress instituted the ban in 2007 on the grounds that a 2004 USDA report showed that Chinese chicken plants were unclean, but Chinese officials have made the ban an issue in trade negotiations on other subjects.

New rules

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The conference report language will allow the rulemaking to go forward, but DeLauro said the language "would firmly establish that Chinese poultry imports must live up to American sanitary conditions before being shipped to the U.S." because it requires more on-site audits, more on-site inspections and an increased level of port-of-entry re-inspections."

The language also requires the agriculture secretary to notify Congress that the conditions have been met before allowing the imports to enter the United States. The rule under consideration would allow the importation of chicken that is grown in other countries, but processed in China.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who worked with DeLauro on the issue, issued a joint news release commending DeLauro and Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., for their roles in reaching the compromise.

"The conferees have acted in Americans' best interests in two ways: By insisting on the safety of our food supply, and also by maintaining America's leadership in the rules-based global trading system," Kirk said.

China imports some chicken byproducts from the United States and after the U.S. government placed tariffs on Chinese tires, Chinese officials signaled they might limit U.S. chicken imports. Tyson Foods Inc., an Arkansas company, is a major chicken exporter.

House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Jack Kingston, R-Ga., also praised the agreement. Kingston, who visited a Beijing processing plant that would export to the United States if allowed, said, "China not only opened their doors to me but their books as well. I am confident that the USDA can get all the information it needs to provide for the importation of safe, processed chicken products."

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, which has fought China's ban on U.S. beef over mad cow disease concerns, sent out a statement from the Ad Hoc Coalition for Sound Science and Trade that said, "The U.S. meat and poultry industry has always been committed to the highest standards of food safety. We are pleased that this issue has been resolved and are hopeful that it lays the groundwork for resumption of trade in these and other products that have been hindered by sanitary and phytosanitary issues. We appreciate the efforts of the administration and Congress to come to agreement on a path forward for these critical issues."

The National Pork Producers Council also praised the agreement in a news release and noted that it had urged its members to call their congressional representatives and urge a compromise.

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"China is a very important market for the U.S. pork industry," NPPC President Don Butler said. "Given the current economic state of our industry . . . U.S. pork exports to China are NPPC's No. 1 trade priority."

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