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China ramps up checks on US pork imports

Beijing

CHINA has ramped up inspections of pork shipped from the United States, importers and industry sources said, the latest American product to be hit by a potentially costly slowdown at Chinese ports in the past couple of weeks.

Some trade experts said they believe Beijing is sending a defiant warning to Washington in response to sweeping US trade demands made on China last week.

The stepped-up checks have even hit China's WH Group Ltd , the world's largest pork company and owner of Smithfield Foods in the US, and come amid increasing scrutiny of other US farm goods, including fruit and logs.

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Ports are opening and inspecting every cargo that arrives, said Luis Chein, a director at WH Group, China's top importer of US pork. That compares with inspections carried out only "randomly" in the past, he said, significantly lengthening the time the product stays at the port.

The Chinese imports account for only about 2 per cent of WH Group sales. "The President has been clear that China needs to treat US agricultural products more fairly, and we are troubled by reports that China continues to impose unjustified restrictions on US products," said a US Agriculture Department spokesman.

Increased checks on US products are "not terribly surprising", said Even Rogers Pay, an agriculture analyst at China Policy, a Beijing-based consultancy. "In a situation where trade tensions are high, China will enforce every possible regulation on its books. It makes strategic sense to do so at this point," she said.

Late on Monday, China's customs agency announced that it was stepping up quarantine checks on apples and logs from the US after detecting pests in imports of the products at Chinese ports.

US President Donald Trump has threatened tariffs on up to US$150 billion of Chinese goods, largely because of US allegations that Beijing misappropriates US technology through joint venture requirements, unfair licensing practices, outright theft and state-backed acquisitions of US technology firms.

Beijing denies those accusations. China's top economic official, Liu He, will visit Washington next week to resume trade talks, the White House said on Monday, after a US delegation led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin came away from a visit to Beijing last week with no agreement over a long list of US trade demands.

US pork is now sitting at Chinese ports for up to two weeks, instead of a few days, industry sources said. Most of the imported pork is frozen and not at risk of perishing.

The US is one of China's top overseas pork suppliers, shipping US$489 million worth of the meat last year. REUTERS