WASHINGTON – Maryland poultry producers are welcoming China’s entry into the World Trade Organization this week, a move that could open vast new markets for U.S.-produced chicken.
The United States currently exports $400 million in chicken a year to China and Hong Kong, a number that could grow to $1 billion in the next two years, officials say.
No specific Maryland export numbers were available, and industry officials said much of the chicken that goes to China comes from Gulf Coast states. But they also said that an opportunity of the magnitude that China offers can only help producers in Maryland.
Tita Cherrier, a spokeswoman for Salisbury-based Perdue Farms, said China’s entry into the WTO would be “very positive for both the poultry industry and our company.”
“It would also justify increasing our own production and labor force which is, of course, going to be good for the state of Maryland,” Cherrier said.
China’s market is now a “drop in the bucket” compared to what it could be, said Tyson Foods spokesman Ed Nicholson. Tyson, which has a production complex in Berlin, is the No. 1 chicken producer in the country.
Maryland is the eighth-largest producer of broiler chicken in the nation. About 36 percent of the state’s total cash farm income was from broilers in 1999, according to the Delmarva Poultry Institute.
China first opened its markets in 1999, when it signed the U.S.-China Agricultural Cooperation Agreement, which lifted a ban on chicken imports and recognized the U.S. meat inspection system.
Later that year, the two countries signed a bilateral agreement that will be formalized by China’s admission to the WTO. That agreement will open more ports, increase the number of potential buyers and, by 2004, lower the tariff on U.S. chicken from 20 percent to 10 percent.
The old rules slowed down the system of poultry delivery to China, said Richard Lobb, a spokesman for the National Chicken Council. Now that China is a member of the WTO, it is subject to the organization’s oversight power, which Lobb predicted would have significant power in further opening up China’s market of more than 1.2 billion people.
Lobb said he expects the chicken export market in China to grow by about 10 percent each year.
Lobb also said there is more demand for dark meat than white meat in China. That means more chickens can be raised for white meat for the domestic market, where white meat is in demand, and there will be a marked overseas for the remaining dark meat.
“It’s a business that benefits the entire industry,” Lobb said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture also welcomed China’s entry into the WTO as an important step for all American farmers.
“For American farmers and ranchers, China’s entry into the rules-based WTO trading system means significantly increased access to the world’s most populous market,” said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. “When fully implemented, China’s commitments could add approximately $2 billion a year to the U.S. agricultural exports.”
-30- CNS 09-20-01