US pressures China, South Korea on poultry quarantine

Agriculture officials, congressional lawmakers and the poultry industry are battling China and South Korea over a U.S. chicken ban that was implemented after several bird flu outbreaks.  

The Obama administration has been trying to convince both nations to, at minimum, relax the quarantine so that it only applies to chicken exports from the states that were affected.

{mosads}The Agriculture Department told The Hill that the Obama administration is “actively working with China and South Korea to reduce trade restrictions” that were imposed because of several isolated bird flu outbreaks across the United States last year and in January.  

“By persuading other trading partners to enforce regionalized bans that affect only those areas where HPAI [highly pathogenic Asian avian influenza] was detected, USDA has helped preserve billions in U.S. poultry exports,” the department said.   

But China and South Korea have been difficult to convince. 

The two nations first imposed the ban when a significant outbreak of bird flu hit Minnesota and Iowa in 2015. South Korea restarted U.S. poultry imports in November but reinstated the ban after another outbreak hit Indiana in January.

Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), the co-chairmen of the Senate Chicken Caucus, wrote, “South Korea is manipulating internationally accepted trade rules that protect markets from avian disease outbreaks” in an email to The Hill. 

“While South Korea’s actions are part of a routine quarantine that occurs when any instance of avian influenza is found in U.S. poultry, these standard procedures effectively block poultry imports from anywhere in the United States, even though Delaware, Georgia and the East Coast have not been impacted.   

“We are determined to take all steps necessary to ensure our poultry farmers are treated fairly around the world,” the senators wrote.  

Mike Brown, president of the National Chicken Council, said that his group was hopeful at the end of last year that South Korea’s ban had ended for good. But the January outbreak revived the problem.

“We’re trying to work with South Korea to go to regionalization so that in the future whole birds from the affected state would be banned,” he said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters. 

“We’re working through that right now as we speak, and I know our government’s communicating the same to China,” Brown said.  

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he has raised the poultry issue with China across several bilateral forums but has yet to resolve it.

“We’re obviously continuing to make sure that our trading partners understand or appreciate that when this occurs and pops up, that it may impact imports from that particular county or state. It shouldn’t impact imports from other parts of the United States that are not currently suffering” from the bird flu, Vilsack said at a recent House hearing on Capitol Hill. 

“I think we’ve done, for the most part, a pretty good job of getting people to understand that,” he said. “We still have a few outliers.”

In one bright spot for agriculture groups, the Obama administration, Congress and poultry stakeholders announced on Wednesday that after 15 years of trying, U.S. chicken, beef and pork exports are finally flowing into South Africa.  

Isakson and Coons, who have been pressuring the South African government for more than a year, said the change is the result of years of hard work and negotiations by poultry producers, U.S. trade officials and President Obama.  

Coons said he hopes the arrival of U.S. chicken in South Africa represents the “opening salvo” of a significant growth opportunity.  

“If we’re going to continue to have a healthy and vibrant poultry sector, we need to continue to knock down barriers around the world and continue to grow opportunities” for poultry exporters, he said.

In November, Obama warned South Africa that he intended to suspend duty-free treatment for all agricultural goods under the African Growth and Opportunity Act if they didn’t comply with a June 2015 agreement within 60 dyas.

By January, the deal was done. 

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said the removal of the barriers could mean $160 million more in U.S. exports to South Africa each year that will provide an economic boost to major chicken-producing states. 

“That’s why we left no stone unturned and had meetings literally all around the world and here in D.C., in Europe, across Africa over the course of more than a year on ourselves, the senators and stakeholders to deliver on this,” Froman told reporters on a conference call on Wednesday. 

Tags Chris Coons Johnny Isakson Michael Froman Tom Vilsack

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