China's publication of rules governing American meat imports is a positive step in the right direction, but it does not amount to full implementation of the bilateral agreement on agriculture signed last year, meat industry groups said today.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) and the American Meat Institute (AMI) made the comments following notification from the Chinese government that the rules are in place. The groups noted that the rules only are one piece of a larger trade deal that must include congressional approval of permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with China to gain the full benefit of increased exports to that country.

According to the meat industry, the Chinese government's publication of meat import rules is welcome news, but it is only the first step, not the final chapter in this critical process for American meat producers.

The meat industry groups said they must withhold judgment on the practical impact of these rules until reports begin to arrive from Chinese ports. How widely these circulars have been disseminated to Chinese importers and Chinese port inspectors and consequently, the extent to which the uncertainty surrounding the import requirements have been eliminated, will determine the true value of this agreement. Of course the real test will come when and if there is an uninterrupted flow of product to China.

The Bilateral Agreement on U.S.-China Agricultural Cooperation was signed in April 1999 and concerns sanitary and phytosanitary matters. Specifically, with respect to meat, China agreed to accept pork, beef, and poultry from any USDA-approved plant for importation and distribution to all end-users.

The meat industry groups, concerned that a delay in carrying out the agreement will have negative repercussions for the PNTR vote, have raised the issue repeatedly with the Chinese, as have U.S. trade officials.

The groups said that full and complete implementation of the bilateral agriculture agreement would create much-needed momentum for a positive congressional vote on granting China permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status.

PNTR status would allow the other components of the larger trade deal to take effect, including a significant reduction in tariffs on meat imports and elimination of export subsidies. (Contact the American Meat Institute at 703/841-2400 for more information.)