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Poultry exports shift to Mexico, Cuba
Thousands of boxes of frozen chicken are prepared to be loaded at Lanier Cold Storage. The batch of chicken is headed out of the country to Colombia and the Philippines.

Impressive footwork

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Around the world

Countries receiving notable exports of poultry in 2015

• Mexico

• Cuba

• Angola

• Taiwan

• Canada

• Hong Kong

The countries the U.S. ships poultry to is an ever-shifting landscape, with politics often playing a key role.

Russia and China, for example, made up nearly 40 percent of broiler exports in 2009 but have since shut down U.S. trade in poultry, which is a top industry in Georgia and Hall County in particular.

In 2015, Mexico was America’s leading trading partner, at nearly 22 percent, up from 10.4 percent in 2009, according to the Stone Mountain-based USA Poultry and Egg Export Council.

Other major export countries in 2015 were Cuba, Angola, Taiwan, Canada and Hong Kong.

However, despite Russia and China leaving the U.S. market, overall exports increased until 2012 then flattened out until 2015, when exports dropped 16 percent in response to the avian flu outbreak in the Midwest.

Poultry exports in general got a major boost in February when the first U.S. chicken in more than 15 years arrived in South Africa.

Shipping to South Africa was the outcome of a June 2015 agreement between the two nations.

U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Chris Coons, D-Del., co-chairs of the Senate Chicken Caucus, had pressured the South African government for more than a year to end unfair food safety and health trade policies on U.S. poultry.

“We are thrilled that after more than 15 years of South Africa illegally blocking imports of U.S. poultry, chicken from Georgia, Delaware and states around the United States will finally reach the dinner tables of South Africans,” the senators said in a joint news release. “This is a significant win for poultry farmers in Georgia and Delaware, and for South Africans who will now have access to our healthy, affordable and high-quality poultry.”

The release states that the poultry industry annually contributes more than $15.1 billion to the Georgia economy.

Just how much Georgia — or Hall County, for that matter — contributes to overall exports is data that’s not easily accessed.

“We think Georgia’s percentage of exports is more than the national average,” Mike Giles, president of Gainesville-based Georgia Poultry Federation.

In a 2015 report, the International Food and Agribusiness Management Association report cites USA Poultry and Egg Export Council in saying that 2013 was a record-setting year for exports of U.S. chicken and turkey, with a combined export value of $5.5 billion.

The report says Georgia exported about 539,600 metric tons of broiler chickens valued at $685 million in 2013, citing U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

The numbers represent 15 percent of total U.S. broiler exports of 3.64 billion metric tons valued at $4.62 billion, according to the association’s report.

And reports this year show that Georgia remains the 11th-largest exporting state and seventh-largest importing state in the country after experiencing a record increase in international trade in 2015.

And Hall County, long dubbed the Poultry Capital of the World, helped the state lead the nation in poultry exports.

Overall, Giles has said, “exports are vital to Georgia’s poultry industry. In a typical year, over 20 percent of Georgia’s broiler production is shipped overseas.”

In 2015, the state’s imports increased by 5.7 percent to $88.6 billion, and companies in Georgia exported to 217 unique countries and territories.

Helping Georgia’s cause is the Savannah port, which is undergoing a deepening project, and the eventual expansion of the Panama Canal.

Giles has said finishing the project is critical to Hall’s poultry industry.

“Georgia’s port location near the major poultry-producing regions of the country and the excellent port infrastructure make the process of exporting efficient for poultry customers,” he said.

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