The first shipment of U.S. chicken to be sent to China in years will be arriving in January, marking the resumption in trade after China lifted its ban just a little over a month ago, USA Poultry and Egg Export Council President Jim Sumner tells Agri-Pulse.

The Chinese ban, based on an outbreak of avian influenza years ago and long since stamped out, was lifted shortly after the U.S. announced that it had approved the importation of Chinese chicken — a move China has been demanding for more than 20 years.

“The first shipment (to China) is chicken paws, produced in Georgia, and it sailed out of the Port of Savannah,” Sumner said. “We’re glad that the first shipment in five years is coming from the number-one chicken producing state in the nation.”

That shipment, containing roughly 50,000 pounds of chicken paws, will be followed by several others, and it’s expected to be just the beginning of a quick ramp-up in trade, according to Sumner.

The Chinese love to eat chicken paws, a product that has not caught on in the U.S., which produces about 1.5 billion pounds every year. During the Chinese ban most of those paws were sold to renderers here that pay about 5 cents per pound. The Chinese 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, Sumner said in a recent interview when China lifted its ban.

U.S. industry applied for and got Chinese approval for 172 facilities, but most of the cold storage units were not included. That was soon rectified, and applications were submitted for 177 of cold storage facilities where the chicken goes after it's processed.

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Those 177 applications are still being processed, and China is expected to approve them by Dec. 26, Sumner said. Until then, only processors with their own cold storage capacity are able to ship product.

Tyson Foods received approval to export poultry to China from 36 of its plants and expects to begin taking orders early next year, a spokesperson for the company tells Agri-Pulse.

For now, the U.S. is only shipping paws, but that could change soon. Sumner said he believes U.S. producers may also begin to ship drumsticks, leg quarters and wingtips. There’s a 35% Chinese tariff on U.S. poultry — a retaliation to U.S. tariffs in the ongoing trade war that the U.S. and China say they hope to end soon — but it’s still profitable to ship the paws and potentially other cuts, Sumner said.

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