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U.S. poultry shares soar after China ends ban on imports of U.S. meat

By Dominique Patton and David Lawder
Chickens are seen at a poultry farm outside Klerksdorp in the North West province

By Dominique Patton and David Lawder

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China on Thursday lifted a nearly five-year ban on poultry meat imports from the United States, a move that senior U.S. officials said would pave the way for more than $1 billion in annual poultry exports to China.

Shares of American poultry producers soared on the announcement from China's customs authority. Tyson Foods shares were up 4.6% in morning trade, Sanderson Farms rose 4.2% and Pilgrim's Pride Corp shares were up 2.2 percent, outperforming a largely flat stock market on Thursday.

China's resumption of U.S. poultry imports comes as the world's two largest economies are trying to finalize a limited trade deal that focuses largely on increased Chinese purchases of American farm products and the opening of China's financial services market.

The announcement also coincides with an unprecedented shortage of protein in China after a fatal hog disease has killed millions of pigs in the pork-loving country over the past year. China customs at the end of October lifted a three-year ban on poultry from Spain and Slovakia.

China had banned all U.S. poultry and eggs since January 2015 because of an avian influenza outbreak, and imports plummeted that year to a fifth of the $390 million worth in 2014.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the lifting of the "unwarranted" ban was good news for both American farmers and Chinese consumers.

"China is an important export market for America’s poultry farmers, and we estimate they will now be able to export more than $1 billion worth of poultry and poultry products each year to China," he said.

China's move also occurs after the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service amended the Federal Register last week to approve imports of poultry products derived from birds slaughtered in China.

The poultry approvals by each side come during ongoing negotiations between the countries to resolve a 16-month long trade war in which each has slapped tariffs on billions of dollars worth of each others' goods.

Improving access for U.S. farm products in the Chinese market has been a critical part of the negotiations, with removal of non-tariff barriers seen as key to reaching Trump's goal of doubling agricultural sales to China.

China's imports of chicken surged nearly 48% to 9.2 billion yuan ($1.3 billion) in the first nine months of this year, including breast meat, which is normally in surplus in the country.

(Reporting by Dominique Patton and David Lawder, additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Steve Orlofsky)