WASHINGTON – Maryland’s chicken industry is ruffled and Sen. Barbara Mikulski is indignant at a plan by China to raise poultry import tariffs by more than 100 percent.
Mikulski fired off a letter to U.S. Trade Rep. Ron Kirk and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke Tuesday morning, urging “swift and immediate action” on China’s recent decision to “impose steep trade tariffs” on inbound U.S. poultry products.
“In recent years, U.S. poultry exports to China have totaled almost $1 billion annually,” the letter states, making China “one of the largest export markets for our poultry industry.”
“The Delmarva poultry industry,” Mikulski’s letter continued, “generates $2 billion in revenue each year and is responsible for 14,700 jobs. In Maryland, there are 800 chicken farms and three processing plants.”
Mikulski’s dispatch comes on the heels of a September web posting by China’s commerce ministry saying it would impose import tariffs of up to 105.4 percent on American poultry.
Although the recipients of Mikulski’s letter did not respond directly to her concerns, the Trade Representative’s Office said the issue is certainly on its radar screen.
“We are very disappointed that China has imposed duties on imports of chicken products from the United States. The United States is carefully reviewing China’s actions, and we are considering our options,” said Nefeterius Akeli McPherson, spokesman in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
The problem for Maryland is even more widespread than Mikulski described, said Bill Satterfield, executive director for Delmarva Poultry.
“What (Mikulski’s letter) fails to account for is the 1,800 families that grow birds,” he said. “And the thousands of farms that grow the corn and soybeans the chickens eat.”
Patricia Langenfelder, the president of the Maryland Farm Bureau, agreed.
“Poultry is a big industry in Maryland,” she said, adding: “Any tariff certainly trickles down (to other industries).”
Based on recent studies, Satterfield estimated that as many as 100,000 people owe their jobs — from vaccine manufacturers and feed growers to those who make the farmers’ equipment — to the poultry industry in Maryland.
He cautioned, however, that all numbers related to the poultry trade in and outside Maryland are difficult to quantify.
“The export data are based on where the chicken was (just) before it got on the boat to go overseas,” he said. “It’s a moving target.”
Still, all agree that China’s tariff hikes will have a major impact on Maryland poultry producers — and beyond.
“Nationally, export markets for U.S. poultry are very important,” said Pat McMillan, Maryland Department of Agriculture assistant secretary for marketing, animal industries and consumer services. “It is bound to have an impact here.”
Meanwhile, Valerie Connelly, the director of government relations for the Maryland Farm Bureau, went a step farther.
“At a time like this when our whole industry is being asked to step up and take care of the Chesapeake Bay issue — it’s really scary,” she said, referring to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort being managed by the federal government.
The plan, jointly funded by all six watershed states, the District of Columbia and the federal government, aims to curtail the impacts of soil erosion and runoff on the Bay.
Connelly called it yet another burden on Maryland farmers, pointing to some of the cleanup strategies outlined in Maryland’s plan.
“Many of those are very expensive,” she said.
Mikulski, who declined to comment specifically on the water quality plan, which is still a draft, did reiterate Tuesday evening her commitment to track the issue.
“Maryland’s poultry industry is an important economic engine for the Eastern Shore,” she said. “I urged Ambassador Kirk and Secretary Locke to settle this trade dispute immediately. American poultry cannot be unfairly forced out of one of our largest export markets.”