The U.S.-China trade relationship is so incendiary that any misstep could have dire ramifications, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai told a gathering of American chicken industry officials Thursday in Washington.

The U.S. will continue its recently renewed dialogue with Chinese trade officials, but Tai stressed caution and warned that delicate non-ag issues will complicate efforts to strengthen the international trade that much of the U.S. ag sector depends on.

“I think the main challenge we face is: How do we take down the temperature in this trade relationship,” Tai said in remarks at the National Chicken Council’s annual conference. “The temperature has gotten to the point where I feel like the entire relationship feels kind of like a pile of dry tinder and a stray remark or misunderstanding … is likely to spark just a giant fire with really drastic implications for all of us.”

The U.S. poultry industry has a lot riding on its continued ability to export to China – a country that until recently banned U.S. shipments and Jim Sumner, president of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council, praised Tai for her cautious approach.

“We’ve been fearful of that spark for the last few years,” said Sumner, who hosted Tai in a “fireside chat” at the NCC conference. “As you know we were able to resume shipping chicken to China two years ago. It’s so beneficial to our industry. It’s our second largest market, so we’re glad you’re taking this approach.”

The U.S. exported 217,020 metric tons of chicken to China in the first half of 2021, a roughly 6% increase from the first six months of last year. More than half of that trade – 129,425 tons – was in the form of chicken paws.

But other sectors of the U.S. ag industry are urging a more aggressive approach to improving trade with China. Farm organizations and trade advocates are asking the Biden administration to consider lifting tariffs on China – a sizable remnant of the U.S.-China trade war that sparked retaliatory tariffs on U.S. ag commodities – and negotiate a new trade pact to build on the “phase one” deal.

“As the purchase commitments in the Phase 1 Agreement expire at the end of this year, American Farm Bureau supports further discussion between the U.S. and China to continue a set of purchase commitments by China for U.S. agricultural products,” Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall told Tai and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in an Aug. 30 letter.

For more news, go to