Mon, Feb 23, 2004 - Page 10 News List

Taiwan missing bird-flu bonanza

CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE The fish and meat industries say they could be making a killing from exports if only the bans on imports of Taiwanese chicken could be lifted

By Amber Chung  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan has the opportunity to increase its exports of frozen or chilled meat and fish products to Asian countries affected by the deadly avian flu outbreak, but only if it can persuade potential importers to lift the ban on Taiwanese chicken, industry insiders said.

While Taiwan has not been designated an affected area by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), 18 countries -- including Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Saudi Arabia -- have banned Taiwanese chicken imports since the discovery of the weaker H5N2 virus at local chicken farms last month.

"Foreign countries' bans on chicken exports from Taiwan have become an obstacle to the nation's efforts to enhance its overseas markets," said Lee Shu Ching (李素菁), food scientist at the food industry research and development institute at Industrial Technology Intelligence Services, or ITIS.

"The nation's exports of frozen and chilled meat may double to more than NT$1.2 billion [this year] compared with last year if the export ban by foreign countries can be lifted soon," Lee said.

Bird flu has caused a decline in domestic chicken consumption of up to 30 percent, but Lee said the drop in demand would last no more than three months.

"The epidemic, however, brings Taiwan a great opportunity to boost its exports of chicken and other meats as Taiwan is free of H5N1, the strong strain of the virus, while most other Asian countries are regarded as infected areas," she said.

As chicken exports from major exporters including the US and Thailand are banned by many countries, orders for chicken have been redirected to Taiwan, the head of a local poultry association said.

"We have received orders for more than 10 million tonnes of chicken from a bunch of countries like Indonesia, Hong Kong and Japan," said Wu Chuan-chin (吳泉錦), chairman of the ROC Poultry Association (中華民國養雞協會).

Charoen Pokphand Enterprise (Taiwan) Co (卜蜂), a chicken-farm unit of Thailand's Charoen Pokphand Food Pcl, has secured orders for 9.2 million tonnes of chicken, valued at US$3 million, from McDonald's and KFC outlets in Hong Kong, Japan and Indonesia, local media reported earlier this month, citing company chairman Yu Ju-chien (游汝謙).

But the companies are prevented from filling the orders, and industry leaders have urged the government to accelerate consultations with other countries to resolve the problem as soon as possible.

"If things can go smoothly, we may be able to ship chicken to countries in the Middle East in the next one or two weeks at the earliest," Wu said. "We hope shipments to the Middle East can help convince other countries to lift the ban on our chicken products."

Government officials said they had been doing their best to get the bans lifted.

"We have been urging these countries through Taiwan's overseas representative offices since the beginning of last week to lift their bans to comply with the regulations of the OIE, which only imposes bans on poultry products from areas affected by H5N1, the strong strain of the virus," said Yeh Ying (葉瑩), deputy director general at the Bureau of Animal and Plant Inspection and Quarantine under the Council of Agriculture.

"We have to respect other countries' quarantine regulations and we cannot estimate when they will allow our exports to enter their territories," Yeh said.

As chicken consumption falls, demand for pork and fish has risen substantially.

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