Representatives of the U.S. poultry industry descended on Havana last week to implore the Cuban government to loosen bans on U.S. chicken after outbreaks of bird flu in major producing states.

USA Poultry & Egg Export Council President Jim Sumner and Veterinary Trade Policy Advisor John Clifford spent long hours over several days with Cuban officials, making their case that Cuban poultry bird flu bans should be at the county level instead of the statewide bans now being enforced by the country, which has become the third largest foreign market for U.S. poultry behind Mexico and China.

The U.S. exported a record-breaking 307,700 metric tons of chicken to Cuba in 2021, valued at about $280 million, according to USDA data. That’s up substantially from the 170,000 tons ($144 million) in 2020.

“We came down here largely out of concern for the impact of avian influenza on our export volume to Cuba,” Sumner told Agri-Pulse. “Our goal is to honor our commitments and continue to put food on the table for Cuban consumers.”

Detections of highly pathogenic avian influenza have been made in commercial flocks in more than 20 states since February, impacting millions of chickens and turkeys and prompting foreign countries to implement bans of various degrees on U.S. poultry. Most countries implement bans based on the county where detection in a commercial flock is located.  Some countries like China and Cuba use state-wide bans. Mexico initially imposes a state ban, but then reduces that to county bans after getting reports from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

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Sumner and Clifford, who coordinated their efforts in Havana with the U.S. State Department, did not get a pledge from Cuban officials to make the state-to-county change, but they did leave Havana Saturday confident that they had made progress.

“We have not gotten a final decision, but we remain optimistic,” Sumner said.

Even Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel offered encouraging words.

Díaz-Canel, who met for hours Wednesday at the Revolutionary Palace with a delegation of U.S. ag representatives – including Sumner and Clifford – said Cuba needs to continue importing U.S. chicken. The country, he said, needs to make sure the chicken it imports is safe from bird flu, but also stressed that Cuba cannot efficiently produce its own.

“We attach great significance to importing U.S. chicken,” Díaz-Canel said.

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