China opens to live swine

The National Swine Registry and purebred swine breeders breathed a collective sigh of relief after learning exports of live swine to China could resume pending H1N1 testing. China has been closed to U.S. swine since April 2009, following the discovery of H1N1 virus in humans in the U.S.

The opening followed a request from the USDA APHIS Veterinary Services to Chinese authorities, requesting acceptance of temporary testing for H1N1 in order to resume exports. Earlier this week, the Chinese Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine responded with a letter to the USDA, saying they had agreed to accept temporary health testing for H1N1 and, based on this protocol, trade for U.S.-origin live swine can resume.

“This is a tremendous announcement for our purebred swine breeders whose primary export market, before 2009, was China,” said NSR CEO Darrell Anderson, noting the impact of the lost access over the past 22 months has been devastating to NSR’s exporting members.

In 2008, purebred swine exporters, collectively marketing under NSR’s America’s Best Genetics program, had shipped a record 7,200 head of swine to China, valued at $12 million total. Tony Clayton, exporter and owner of Clayton Agri-Marketing, Inc., in Jefferson City, Mo., works closely with the NSR and facilitates many export shipments. “We were on pace to set new records in 2009, before the frenzy broke, and trends would have likely continued throughout 2010,” Clayton said.

Although China began accepting pork exports from the U.S. starting May 1, 2010, live animals were still banned. In December 2010 Clayton estimated the accumulative loss to breeders and the related export industry at more than $30 million.

According to Anderson, the live swine trade issue was largely compounded by unrelated poultry trade conflicts between the U.S. and China, creating stalled negotiations.

“Unfortunately, for an industry such as purebred swine breeding stock, the big-picture political crossfire that exists between countries in general overshadowed the relevance and need for releasing the export ban,” said Anderson, noting the agreement for H1N1 testing was also a result of political necessity.

H1N1 testing for live swine is not science-based, however, other major swine exporting countries such as Canada and the Netherlands had agreed to and were conducting testing over the past year in order to access China – putting the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage.

“We were watching some of our most important partners in China being forced to fill their swine needs with animals from Canada or elsewhere,” Anderson said. “In order to level the playing field, we knew the U.S. would have to implement testing as well in order to remain viable.”

Many NSR members have swine breeding stock orders pending with clients in China, and Anderson says he hopes to see live animals shipping by early this summer.

“We have worked for years to develop strong relationships with our Chinese counterparts who have aggressively sought after and purchased U.S. swine genetics for years,” Anderson said. “To have this trade limited has been frustrating for both our Chinese clients and our own members; to have it open is a win for everyone.”

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