China Edges Toward U.S. Tobacco Imports
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China has moved one step closer to importing U.S. tobacco for the first time in 11 years and is also taking steps to open its borders to U.S. potatoes, the U.S. Agriculture Department said on Tuesday.
China has also pledged to eliminate an address requirement for U.S. citrus imports that has caused delays at Chinese ports, the department said.
Chinese officials told the United States during a bilateral meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska that they plan to issue regulations by November 30 allowing the importation of U.S. tobacco, the department said.
China will also begin a review process that is expected to lead to importation of seed potatoes from Alaska and tablestock potatoes from Alaska, Washington and Oregon.
Those three states are free of many of the pests and diseases commonly associated with potatoes.
Alaska potatoes, because of the state's geographic location and climate, are of exceptional quality, the department said.
Seed potatoes, also known as ``starter spuds,'' are used by farmers to start new crops. Tablestock potatoes are eaten.
Michael Dunn, U.S. agriculture under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs, hailed the actions ``as evidence of an emerging trade relationship we are beginning to establish between China and the United States.''
China has already approved imports of seed potatoes from Canada and the Netherlands.
``We believe Alaska, Washington and Oregon potatoes are an even better choice,'' Dunn said.
China has been taking steps to open its market to U.S. tobacco for the past several months.
In May, just before the U.S. House of Representatives approved permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with China, the country agreed to drop its 11-year-old ban.
China has banned imports of U.S. tobacco since 1989 because of concern that blue mold sometimes found on U.S. leafs could contaminate its domestic crops.
The United States considers the ban an illegitimate trade barrier because there is no scientific evidence that blue mold spores survive the tobacco drying process.
Chinese officials will return to the United States on August 25 to review U.S. tobacco fields and will be accompanied by officials from the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
U.S. tobacco farmers are desperately seeking new markets because of declining domestic consumption.
A North Carolina study group concluded last year that U.S. flue-cured tobacco exports could increase 10 percent, or 30-35 million pounds, if China ended its ban.
USDA said delays in citrus imports had been caused because exporters sometimes put their own addresses on shipping documents, instead of the address of a packing house approved by China.
The new agreement requires exporters to list the name of the packing house and the state and county where it is located.