China is lifting its four-year ban on U.S. poultry, opening the way for hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. exports and signaling a further thaw in U.S.-China trade relations.

The Chinese move to clear U.S. poultry as a threat of avian influenza – long after the outbreaks years ago – comes on the heels of the U.S. announcing that it has approved the importation of Chinese chicken. While there is no official connection between the two actions on poultry, industry and government officials have privately expressed concerns that one would not happen without the other.

Meanwhile, U.S. and Chinese negotiators continue to try to hammer out a partial, “phase one,” trade pact. President Donald Trump said this week that a deal could be reached “soon,” but also threatened new tariffs on China if an agreement could not be reached.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service published a rule earlier this month allowing China to certify slaughter and processing facilities there to export chicken to the U.S. The FSIS technically okayed China to ship raw poultry to the U.S., but the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service stepped in and limited shipments to processed product because China is still dealing with avian influenza outbreaks.

“The United States welcomes China’s decision to finally lift its unwarranted ban on U.S. poultry and poultry products,” USTR Robert Lighthizer said Thursday. “This is great news for both America’s farmers and China’s consumers. China is an important export market for America’s poultry farmers, and we estimate they will now be able to export more than $1 billion worth of poultry and poultry products each year to China. Reopening China to U.S. poultry will create new export opportunities for our poultry farmers and support thousands of workers employed by the U.S. poultry industry.”

The biggest boon to U.S. poultry producers will be the ability to once again sell chicken paws to the Chinese. It’s a product loved in China, but mostly shunned in the U.S., where about 1.5 billion pounds are produced every year. Without the Chinese market, most have been going to renderers that pay about 5 cents per pound. The Chinese, though, will pay about 87 cents per pound.

“The opening of China — even if it was just for chicken paws alone … would increase the bottom line of U.S. chicken companies by $835 million per year, U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council President Jim Sumner told Agri-Pulse in an interview.

But China wants much more than just paws. The country is fighting outbreaks of African swine fever, killing off massive numbers of swine to try to stop the spread of the disease. The loss of all that pork is forcing China to diversify its protein consumption and chicken imports are surging.

The council estimates that China’s poultry imports increased by 48% in the first eight months of this year. Brazil, Argentina and Thailand have been boosting exports to meet that rising demand, but now the U.S. is expected to get some of that new business too.

“They are buying anything and everything they can find,” Sumner said. “We would certainly like to be a part of that.”

The USTR and USDA are predicting that China’s ASF problem will could push China to buy an additional $1 billion worth of chicken imports beyond paws. China’s also expected to buy as much as an additional $100 million worth of turkey and $60 million worth of poultry breeding stock.

“America’s poultry producers are committed to raising high-quality, nutritious products, and we are extremely pleased that we will once again have the opportunity to share these products with Chinese consumers,” USAPEEC, the National Chicken Council and the National Turkey Federation said in a joint statement Thursday. “We look forward to resuming a trade partnership with China in the coming weeks.”

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