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Tyson Foods wants China to lift ban on U.S. plant with COVID-19 cases

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Tyson Foods Inc TSN.N is seeking to convince Beijing to lift a ban on U.S. chicken shipments from an Arkansas plant where workers tested positive for COVID-19, President Dean Banks said on Monday

China has emerged as the largest export market for American poultry, overtaking Mexico this spring, after Beijing in November ended a nearly five-year embargo on imports from the United States.

Since June, China’s customs authority has blocked chicken from Tyson’s plant in Springdale, Arkansas, as part of an all-out effort to control the spread of COVID-19 in China. Globally, Beijing has suspended imports from more than 20 overseas plants processing pork, beef and poultry.

“We’ve been interacting with them and making sure that they have all the information they need about the precautionary measures, the protective measures that plant has taken,” Banks told reporters on a call.

“We’d love to continue to export product from that facility, but that’s in the hands of the Chinese government.”

Tyson on Monday also named Banks as its new chief executive and reported quarterly earnings that were hurt by the pandemic.

More than 16,000 U.S. meatpacking workers have been infected with COVID-19 at dozens of plants, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council, said the United States is lucky Beijing suspended imports from just one American plant. As of last week, China had blocked six Brazilian facilities, according to Brazil’s agriculture ministry.

China is also testing imported meat and seafood for COVID-19, although processors say food cannot transmit the coronavirus. China has increased imports as a deadly pig disease has decimated its herd over the past two years.

“We’ve seen a bottleneck in ports emerge a little bit due to testing,” Banks said. “Their demand is very, very strong right now and so they’re doing everything they can to keep things moving.”

Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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