World News

China protests U.S. poultry rule at WTO meeting

GENEVA (Reuters) - China complained about a U.S. law blocking imports of Chinese poultry products at a World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting on Thursday.

The move falls short of launching the formal trade dispute that Beijing had threatened, but reflects China’s continuing unease about the ban, which it says is undermining the global trading system at a time when fears of protectionism are rising.

“I believe that any trainee with a preliminary knowledge of the WTO disciplines will tell that this section violates the basic rules of the WTO,” China’s deputy ambassador to the WTO, Zhang Xiangchen, told a meeting of the trade body’s agriculture committee, according to a copy of his remarks.

In a note to the U.S. diplomatic mission to the WTO, China said it was raising “serious representations” about the issue.

The note said Chinese lawmakers are calling on Beijing to retaliate by blocking imports of U.S. poultry products.

In the Omnibus Appropriation Act 2009, a spending bill approved by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday that includes funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Congress banned U.S. food safety inspectors from letting in poultry products from China.

Similar wording in the previous year’s spending bill had aroused China’s concerns.

A series of food safety scandals in recent years have damaged the reputation of Chinese products.

Rose DeLauro, who chairs the U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture, has argued China’s poultry products are a health risk because of poor sanitary conditions at Chinese processing plants.

But in its note to the U.S. mission, China said its poultry production met international standards and that it was exporting poultry meat to developed markets including Japan, the European Union and Switzerland.

Trade economists say safety standards can easily be abused to block imports unfairly. Much of the WTO’s work is devoted to monitoring safety and health standards.

The U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council, fearful of retaliation in China, one of the biggest markets for U.S. poultry goods with sales worth $677 million in 2008, has expressed support for the Chinese complaint.

Reporting by Jonathan Lynn; Editing by Janet Lawrence