China said on Friday it would impose preliminary anti-dumping duties of up to 105 percent on broiler chicken imports from the United States.
On its website, the Ministry of Commerce said the US side had dumped broiler chickens in China, the largest importer of US chicken products, which had hurt local producers.
US exporters Tyson Foods and Pilgrim's Pride Corp will be levied duties of 43.1 and 80.5 percent respectively. Firms that did not respond to the Chinese investigation would be levied duty of 105.4 percent. The ruling will come into effect on Feb 13.
The move comes as Beijing and Washington have been embroiled in a series of rifts over US arms sales to China's Taiwan, President Barack Obama's plan to meet the Dalai Lama, and the US leader's vow to get tougher with China on trade and currency issues.
Li Qiang, managing director of Shanghai JC Intelligence, was quoted by Bloomberg as saying that the ruling is "probably a result of political tension, although a trade war between the two economies is unlikely".
Wang Rongjun, professor at the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, disagreed. "The ruling should not be politicized. It was made based on surveys and evaluations."
"We appreciate the government's efforts to try to create a fair competitive environment for Chinese companies," said Ma Chuang, vice-secretary general of the China Animal Agriculture Association.
After Obama supported the safeguard ruling against Chinese tire imports last September, the Chinese government announced it would, at the request of the association, conduct anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations into US broiler chickens.
The US is the largest broiler chicken manufacturer, followed by Brazil and China. China is the largest importer of chicken products from the US, imports of which reached 584,300 tons in 2008, accounting for 20 percent of US exports and 75 percent of Chinese imports during the same period.
"US companies have been selling the chicken at a comparatively lower price, which puts local players at a disadvantage," said Ma.
As a result of the ruling, it is estimated that China's monthly chicken imports will fall by 63,000 tons, worth around $79 million. And the duties mean that US imports would cost about 0.05 yuan more per pound than Chinese counterparts.
Hu Jijun, chief China representative of the US Poultry & Egg Export Council, was quoted by Bloomberg as saying the group would meet ministry representatives to seek further clarification on the issue.
China and the US have been engaged in rising trade conflicts ever since Washington's tire ruling. Since this January, the US has decided to impose anti-dumping duties of as much as 289 and 175 percent respectively on imports of wire decking products and electric blankets, and the nation also announced recently it would launch an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation into imports of drill pipe used for oil wells from China.
The ministry said on Monday that China has become the biggest victim of the abuse of trade remedy measures by the US since the beginning of the financial crisis.