China Lifts Ban On U.S. Pork Products


American pork producers say China's decision to lift a ban on U.S. pork imports comes at a critical time. The industry is struggling because of fears over swine flu. China imposed the ban on U.S. pork five months ago following the outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus. The disease cannot be caught by eating pork.

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The United States is going to be resuming one of its exports to China. Yesterday, Beijing agreed to lift the ban on American pork which was imposed last spring after swine flu broke out.

Frank Morris of member station KCUR has more.

FRANK MORRIS: For the last couple of years, feed prices have been so high that U.S. farmers lost money on almost every pig they raised. China was one of the bright spots for U.S. producers - their third largest and fastest growing export market. But H1N1 put a stop to that.

Chinese officials said they were worried about catching swine flu from eating U.S. pork - even though you can't. That was just cover, according to Ron Plain, an agricultural economics professor at the University of Missouri.

Professor RON PLAIN (University of Missouri-Columbia): This gave them an excuse from the standpoint of trying to protect their hog producers. They had enough pork and soft prices and there's an exception on trade rules for health concerns and so they grabbed this as an opportunity to keep out some foreign product.

MORRIS: Plain says that lifting the ban won't spark a big new market for ribs and chops in China but that it will help move harder to sell parts that are popular there, like pigs feet.

Dave Warner, with the National Pork Producers Council, sees huge long-term potential in the Chinese market. He says restoring access to it ends a painful era.

Mr. DAVE WARNER (National Pork Producers Council): With the lifting of that ban, we are seeing the end of the effects of HIN1 virus on our industry.

MORRIS: Still, with well over a billion dollars in losses this year, and no profits likely until well into next, it's going to be a long time before U.S. pork producers put on any weight.

For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City.

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