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China-US trade tensions could hurt poultry industry
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Trade tensions with China and threats of tariffs on U.S. poultry imports into China threaten consequences for the state’s poultry industry.

The Obama administration said last week it will impose duties on tires imported from China, arguing that the Chinese government unfairly subsidizes producers and props up its currency to keep the tires artificially cheap.

The Chinese government rejected the accusations and announced its own investigation into whether poultry and auto parts exported from the United States receive illegal subsidies.

Over the last year, China has become the leading market for U.S. poultry. In 2008, the U.S. exported almost 800,000 metric tons of poultry to China with a value of nearly $722 million, according to a statement released by the U.S.A. Poultry & Egg Export Council. Already in the first seven months of this year, the U.S. exported more than 451,000 tons of poultry to China.

But China’s claims that the U.S. is dumping poultry, or selling the commodity at a price lower than it is sold domestically and in other countries, on the Chinese market has serious implications for Georgia’s poultry industry.

Georgia is the largest chicken-producing state in the country, and what affects the industry at large will most certainly affect Georgia, said Richard Lobb, spokesperson for the National Chicken Council in Washington, D.C.

"There are a lot of chicken farmers in Georgia and they all have a stake in this," Lobb said. "It is not good to have one of your major markets threatened."

Most companies in the poultry industry are involved in the export trade either directly or through third-party exporters, Lobb said.

Approximately 15 percent of Habersham County-based Fieldale Farms’ product is exported, and about half of those exports are to China, said Bo Coursey, export manager for the company.

But for Fieldale, the latest tiff between China and the United States — and the tariffs on poultry exports that could result from it — will not affect Fieldale’s farmers and employees as much as it likely will affect chicken consumers, Coursey said.

"We’ve seen some other countries put some tariffs on products before," he said. "We’ll just adjust the price and take care of the situation and continue to go on."

Lobb said the anti-dumping investigation could take a couple of months, but said he does not expect that the investigation will uncover anything negative for the country’s poultry industry.

"We feel that their accusation is unjustified," Lobb said. "They’re looking for something to hit back."

Lobb said the investigation could result in China closing its doors to U.S. poultry imports or placing tariffs on them.

Yet, Lobb said that the good news is that China is following procedure by filing complaints with the World Trade Commission and launching and investigation, rather than just cutting off U.S. poultry imports.

"At least they didn’t just slam the door," Lobb said. "However, they have hinted in the past that they could."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.