France, China agree regional approach to pig disease and trade

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PARIS, Dec 13 (Reuters) - France on Monday signed an agreement with main export customer China to ensure pork trade can continue even if an outbreak of African swine fever (ASF) occurs, potentially providing a blueprint for European countries threatened by the pig disease.

Blanket bans on meat trade by China and other importing countries due to outbreaks of ASF and other diseases, such as bird flu, have regularly disrupted exports from livestock exporting zones in Europe and the Americas.

China is the largest pork export market for France and the European Union, with Chinese demand surging in the last two years as ASF devastated its domestic herd.

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ASF, deadly for pigs but harmless to humans, is not present in France but has spread across Europe and cases in wild boar were found in Belgium, near the French border, three years ago.

Monday's agreement, which takes effect immediately, means China would allow pork exports from unaffected regions of France even if ASF occurred elsewhere in the country, the French economy and agriculture ministries said in a statement.

"This agreement is the first of its kind to be signed by China in favour of a European Union country. It is thus a model and heralds future agreements with other sectors and countries," French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie said.

China's finance ministry said in a separate statement it welcomed "the entry into force of the regional management agreement for African swine fever".

The accord was signed during a regular session of French-Chinese economic talks.

Germany, a larger pork supplier than France, is in ongoing talks with Beijing about a regional approach. It has been excluded from the Chinese market due to ASF cases in eastern Germany since last year. read more

While France's agreement was encouraging, Germany was in a different situation given the presence of ASF on its territory, a spokesperson for Germany's federal agriculture ministry said. read more

Avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, is another disease for which exporting countries have been seeking a regionalisation approach from China in trade.

The United States secured a regionalisation agreement covering bird flu as part of its Phase 1 trade deal with Beijing.

France has in recent weeks detected outbreaks of bird flu and data from farming agency FranceAgriMer showed its poultry exports to China have been banned since late last year, when a previous wave of bird flu started. read more

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Reporting by Gus Trompiz, Leigh Thomas and Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris, Dominique Patton in Beijing and Michael Hogan in Hamburg; editing by Sybille de La Hamaide and Barbara Lewis

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