WASHINGTON, August 9, 2017 - Getting the South Korea ban lifted is the high-priority short-term goal for U.S. industry and government officials, (see related story) but after that the goal is to get the Asian country to overhaul the way it bans poultry. South Korea – like China – always implements a country-wide ban on U.S. poultry in the event of a bird flu outbreak, even if the outbreak is small and contained in one location.

U.S. and South Korean government officials confirmed for Agri-Pulse that they have been meeting for months to negotiate an agreement in which the country would switch to a regional approach to banning poultry in reaction to outbreaks here.

“We think that the initial announcement will just be the lifting of the ban and we hope later in the year – hopefully before another (HPAI) incident – that they will put in place regionalization,” U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council (USAPEEC) President Jim Sumner said. “Hopefully they have all the information they need to make that decision.”

Action soon from China is less certain, Sumner said, but he stressed that the U.S. industry is optimistic because of recent U.S.-China negotiations that culminated in July when the two countries held their first Comprehensive Economic Dialogue meeting in Washington.

It was during those meetings that China agreed to lift its ban on U.S. rice, but negotiators also addressed poultry in an unofficial side meeting, U.S. industry and government officials told Agri-Pulse.

U.S. negotiators made a comprehensive request of China to both lift its ban on U.S. poultry and switch to a regional response when it comes to future bird flu outbreaks, the sources said.

Those meetings were not the first time the Trump administration pushed China on its poultry ban, which has been in place since early 2015.

Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue pressed the Chinese to open up to U.S. poultry when he visited Beijing and Shanghai in June – a trip that was arranged to celebrate China’s lifting of its 13-year ban on U.S. beef.

While Perdue was in China, a team of Chinese officials from the country’s Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) was beginning a tour of U.S. production facilities and other places to learn more about how the U.S. handles bird flu outbreaks.

It’s uncertain that delegation’s tour and all of the negotiations will result in China lifting its poultry ban, but Sumner said he is optimistic – so long as there are no unforeseen complications.

“There are a lot of issues going on and we’re hoping some of the non-agricultural issues don’t affect the agricultural issues and that China will do the right thing,” he said.

What could help is the fact that the U.S. issued a proposed rule in June that would allow imports of cooked chicken from China. China has been pressing the U.S. to allow in imports of chicken that were raised and slaughtered there.

“I’m sure they’re hoping we do the right thing on that and we’re hoping they do the right thing for us,” Sumner said.