Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk on Oct. 29 announced China intends to reopen its market to U.S. pork and live swine consistent with international standards. The announcement was made at the conclusion of meetings between U.S. and Chinese agriculture and trade officials at the 20th meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade held in Hangzhou.

“Two-way trade of agricultural, fish and forest products between the U.S. and China has grown in recent years to more than $21 billion per year, opening increasingly important connections that can benefit farmers, ranchers and consumers in both countries,” Mr. Vilsack said. “China’s intent to remove its H1N1-related ban on U.S. pork marks an important step forward in cooperation between the countries on agriculture issues.”

Mr. Kirk added, “I look forward to China resuming imports of U.S. pork products and live swine. Based on our discussions, we expect China to base its opening on science and internationally agreed standards.”

In discussions with Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Qishan and Sun Zhengcai, the Chinese agriculture minister, Mr. Vilsack stressed the need for China to remove all restrictions on trade in pork products related to the H1N1 virus, given clear guidance from international bodies like the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health that there is no risk to humans from consuming properly prepared pork and pork products.

In 2008, China was the U.S. pork industry’s fastest-growing market, accounting for $560 million in U.S. exports. China’s May 2009 H1N1-related import restrictions effectively stopped U.S. pork exports to China.

U.S. exports to China rose rapidly in recent years. China imported 84,339,000 lbs of U.S. pork in 2004, 111,943,000 lbs in 2006 and a record 361,562,000 lbs in 2008. But in the wake of that country’s H1N1-related ban on U.S. pork, U.S. exports to that country in 2009, through August, totaled only 54,403,000 lbs compared with 337,839,000 lbs during the same eight months of 2008.

U.S. pork exports this year to the Chinese special administrative region of Hong Kong also plummeted, although the percentage decline was less than in the case of exports to the mainland. The United States exported 32,179,000 lbs of pork to Hong Kong in 2004, 49,929,000 lbs in 2006 and a phenomenal 489,799,000 lbs in 2008. U.S. pork exports to Hong Kong in the first eight months of 2009 totaled 167,463,000 lbs, down 58% from 394,263,000 lbs during the same span of 2008.

Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, said, “I am very pleased that the Chinese government will move to reopen its markets to U.S. pork, acknowledging that there was no scientific basis to bar our pork exports due to the emergence of H1N1 flu. I look forward to the full resumption of trade in pork products with China quickly.

“This is good news for an industry hit hard by a downturn in the economy and that greatly benefits from trade. Regaining access to a $500 million market in China will help alleviate the financial burden on pork producers in Arkansas and across the country who have been selling their livestock at a loss for almost two years. There remain a handful of markets that are closed to U.S. pork, but I hope that others will follow China’s example and restore access promptly.”

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking member of the Committee on Finance, said, “This is very welcome news. A resumption of trade with China will benefit pork producers in Iowa and around the country. It’s significant when a major economy like China demonstrates that its trade regulations will be set in accordance with internationally recognized sound science, and even more significant when it shows that it will follow through as a responsible member of the world trading community.”

Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and other U.S. officials also participated in the U.S.-China talks that produced in addition to the agreement on pork trade a new accord on removing barriers to U.S. companies in China’s clean energy market and a clampdown on Internet Piracy.

The U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade has provided a forum for U.S. and Chinese officials to discuss and resolve differences 20 times since its launch in 1983.