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US and China poultry dispute continues

The US has blocked the creation of a panel of judges at the World Trade Organisation sought by China to examine a US ban on Chinese poultry imports that Beijing says breaks WTO rules, reports Reuters.

The exchange at the WTO's dispute settlement body highlighted friction between the world's second biggest exporter and its biggest importer. However, it also showed the 2 trading giants were working within the system to resolve differences, Reuters further reported.

China immediately called for an extra meeting of the dispute settlement body on 31 July to approve the panel, which will be set up after that session.

But the row also shows how concerns about food safety can be entangled with worries about protectionism.

At the heart of the dispute is the US Omnibus Appropriations Act for 2009, which specifies that none of its funds should be used to facilitate imports of Chinese poultry.

"While violating various WTO rules, the measure has severely undermined the stable development of Sino-US trade on poultry products, and damaged the lawful rights and interests of China's poultry industry," China's WTO delegation said in a statement to the dispute body.

But the US delegation said the US allows imports of poultry from all countries with whom Washington has agreed to respect each other's health and safety standards, but China challenged with the way the US was dealing with its request for such an agreement.

"The US places great importance on ensuring that its measures relating to food safety are based on science and in compliance with US obligations under the WTO Agreement," it said.

China launched the trade dispute in April. Under WTO procedures the defendant in a trade row can block a dispute panel once.

US legislators wrote a ban on funding arrangements for Chinese poultry imports – such as setting up health checks at US ports - into the appropriations bill after a series of scandals about Chinese food and other products.

On 9 July, the US House of Representatives passed an agriculture funding bill that would extend the ban until September next year.

US poultry producers support the Chinese position out of fear China could retaliate, blocking the biggest export market for the US industry, worth almost $700 mln a year. US trade groups say China has already stopped letting in some US chicken products.

Source: Reuters

Natalie Berkhout

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