U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that China intends to re-open the Chinese market to United States pork and live swine, consistent with science-based international standards. The announcement was made at the conclusion of meetings with Chinese officials at the US-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT). Two-way trade of agricultural, fish, and forest products between the U.S. and China has grown in recent years to over $21 billion per year, opening increasingly important connections that can benefit farmers, ranchers and consumers in both countries," said Vilsack. "China's intent to remove its H1N1-related ban on U.S. pork marks an important step forward in cooperation between the countries on agriculture issues."

"I look forward to China resuming imports of U.S. pork products and live swine," said Kirk. "Based on our discussions, we expect China to base its opening on science and internationally agreed standards."

In 2008, China was the U.S. pork industry's fastest growing market, accounting for $560 million in U.S. exports. China's May 2009 A/H1N1 restrictions have stopped U.S. pork exports to China. In discussions with Vice Premier Wang Qishan and Agriculture Minister Sun Zhengcai, Vilsack stressed the need for China to remove all restrictions on trade in pork products related to the H1N1 virus, given clear guidance from international bodies like the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), World Health Organization (WHO), and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), that there is no risk to humans from consuming properly prepared pork and pork products.

In his first visit to China as Agriculture Secretary, Vilsack took part in the meeting of the JCCT, a bilateral forum for resolving trade issues, co-chaired by U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. Leading the delegation for China was Vice Premier Wang Qishan.

Throughout his travels in China, and earlier in the trip for a trade mission to the Philippines, Vilsack emphasized the need to keep markets open and promote food safety and workable international regulatory standards that protect consumers without creating artificial trade barriers.

The re-opening of China and other international markets to U.S. pork could be beneficial to beef producers in a couple ways. First, exports have benefited the U.S. pork sector significantly in recent years. The loss of those markets due to misguided fears of H1N1 influenza resulted in a glut of pork in our domestic markets. Competition from that low-priced pork contributes to lower retail beef prices and lower prices back through the production chain.

The other benefit could be even more significant. We all know that pork from the U.S., or anywhere, carries no risk of spreading the H1N1 virus. Related trade restrictions are based on public misunderstanding, hysteria, and in some cases, governments using the issue to create illegitimate trade barriers.

Sound familiar? Science has shown that U.S. beef, from cattle of any age, carries virtually no risk of spreading BSE, and yet barriers remain. If China bases its decision on science and internationally agreed standards as Secretary Vilsack expects, it could signal a trend toward more science-based trade policy around the region. Taiwan recently made a move in that direction, with a decision to allow imports of U.S. bone-in beef and some other beef products that were previously banned. Let’s hope the trend continues. — John Maday, Drovers managing editor