Morning Brief

China Suspends U.S. Poultry Imports After Coronavirus Outbreak at Tyson Plant

The move follows a ban on a German pork exporter on Thursday as China cracks down on imports from coronavirus-stricken facilities.

A woman shops in the chicken and meat section at a grocery store, April 28, 2020 Washington, DC.
A woman shops in the chicken and meat section at a grocery store, April 28, 2020 Washington, DC. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: China suspends some U.S. poultry imports after an outbreak at a Tyson Foods processing plant, U.S. and Russian envoys discuss nuclear arms control in Vienna, record high temperatures in the Arctic circle, and the world this week.

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China Knocks Out Tyson Imports After Coronavirus Outbreak 

China has temporarily suspended the import of poultry products from an Arkansas-based Tyson Foods processing plant after reports of a mass coronavirus outbreak at the company’s processing facilities.

Tyson is the second largest chicken processor in the world with chicken sales of $13.1 billion (out of total sales of $42.4 billion) in 2019.

The move comes after a Friday announcement from Tyson of widespread infections in their workforce. It announced that 13 percent, or 481, of its workers in northwest Arkansas had tested positive for the coronavirus. Of that 13 percent, the vast majority (95 percent) were asymptomatic, the company said. On Sunday, Tyson confirmed the outbreak was at its Springdale plant, where the company’s headquarters is located.

The World Health Organization says there is no evidence that a person can contract the coronavirus from food or food packaging, but Chinese authorities—chastened by a recent outbreak at a Beijing food market—seem to be taking a hard line. It’s a change from last Friday, when a Chinese customs official said the country would not enact import restrictions because of the low risk of food-borne coronavirus infections.

Define “temporary.” Although it’s not yet known how much poultry has been blocked from entering China this time, it could still have long term economic effects: A similar ban was put in place on all U.S. poultry during the 2015 avian flu outbreak. That ban wasn’t lifted until November of last year.

Germany also shut out. China has not just singled out U.S. food imports. On June 18, China suspended imports from the German pork processor Tonnies after it emerged that 1,300 of its slaughterhouse workers had contracted the coronavirus in recent weeks. The single outbreak led to marked rise in Germany’s R number, a measure of how quickly the virus is spreading within the population.

Could this dissolve the U.S.-China Phase One trade deal? China-based experts have floated the possibility that any more problems with U.S. food exporters could lead to a dissolution of the trade deal on natural disaster grounds—and an end to $36.5 billion in agricultural products that China must buy from the United States as part of the agreement. “If there’s a huge outbreak of the coronavirus among U.S. agricultural companies, there might be a need to renegotiate the deal,” Hu Qimu, a senior fellow at Sinosteel Economic Research Institute, told the Global Times, a Chinese state newspaper.

As FP’s Jason Bordoff wrote on May 22, the phase one deal was already unlikely to live up to expectations—China is supposed to purchase $19 billion worth of U.S. energy products this year, a number they are unlikely to reach as coronavirus pressures have slowed energy exports.

What We’re Following Today

Russia and U.S. meet for nuclear talks. Envoys from the United States and Russia are due to meet in Vienna today for arms control talks aimed at extending the New Start nuclear nonproliferation treaty beyond its February 2021 expiry date. U.S. Special Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea has continually pushed for China to join the talks and sign on to the treaty. “New arms control should definitely involve Russia AND China, and cover entire nuclear arsenals of both those countries,” Billingslea wrote on Twitter on June 19. China has rebuffed invitations to join the talks citing its much smaller nuclear arsenal relative to the United States and Russia.

EU-China annual summit. Representatives from the European Union and China meet today for an annual summit between the two powers. Chinese premier Li Keqiang leads the Chinese delegation, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will lead the European side along with European Council President Charles Michel. An EU press release says the meeting will discuss “cooperation on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and on the recovery” as well as EU-China bilateral relations, including “the economy and trade, connectivity, sustainable development and climate change, security and defense.”

U.K. police treat stabbing suspect as terrorism case. Three people were killed in a public park in Reading, near London, after being stabbed by a knife-wielding attacker. British police have arrested the alleged perpetrator Khairi Saadallah—a 25-year-old Libyan man—under the country’s terrorism act. Saadallah had fled the civil war in Libya and had been granted asylum in the United Kingdom. In the wake of the stabbings, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to make changes to the British legal system to prevent further attacks.

Kiribati votes on its future. The Pacific island nation of Kiribati votes today in a presidential election with geopolitical implications. On June 19 in Foreign Policy, Christopher Pala explored how the battle between Kiribati President Taneti Maamau and challenger Banuera Berina has become a referendum on Chinese influence on the island. Kiribati had been one of the few countries that recognized Taiwan’s sovereign status until the incumbent Maamau switched the country’s support to China in 2019. 

Keep an Eye On

Record high summer temperatures in Arctic circle. The town of Verkhoyansk in northeast Siberia has likely logged the highest temperature ever recorded within the Arctic circle when it reached 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38º Celsius) on June 20. The average June temperatures in the area is usually around 68 degrees (20º Celsius). The temperature has yet to be confirmed by the World Meteorological Organization, which verifies extreme temperature records. Melting permafrost from unseasonably high temperatures has already led to disaster in Russia after it contributed to the collapse of a fuel tank in the Siberian city of Norilsk at the beginning of June.

WHO records highest daily coronavirus case count. The World Health Organization (WHO) recorded the highest daily spike in new coronavirus cases globally on Sunday, beating the record set the previous week. Overall 183,020 new cases were recorded, with roughly half of all global cases coming from Brazil (54,771) and the United States (36,617). The WHO attributed the dramatic jump in Brazil’s daily cases to a lag in testing data coming from three states. According to a model by researchers at the University of Washington, Brazil’s number of total cases could surpass that of the United States as soon as August 1.

The World This Week

On Tuesday, June 23, voters in Malawi will head to the polls for a rerun of the country’s 2019 presidential election. Malawi’s constitutional court overturned last year’s election victory of incumbent Peter Mutharika, citing irregularities in the vote.

Also on Tuesday, Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet via videoconference to discuss Indian-Chinese border tensions. The meeting was scheduled following last week’s clashes in the Galwan valley between Indian and Chinese troops.

On Wednesday, June 24, U.S. President Donald Trump hosts President Andrzej Duda at the White House. The meeting is a welcome boost for Duda ahead of the Polish presidential election scheduled for this Sunday, June 28. A Pew Research Center poll published in January 2020 showed Poland gave Trump a higher approval rating than any other European country surveyed.

Also on Wednesday, Russia will host its Victory Day parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. Russia had previously moved the date from May 9, citing coronavirus fears.

The following day, June 25, voting opens for a referendum on changes to Russia’s constitution, including measures that could allow President Vladimir Putin to continue past his current term limits. The voting period ends on July 1. On Sunday, Putin said he would be open to running for another term if voters approve the changes.

Odds and Ends

The  coronavirus has introduced a whole new set of variables in professional sports; social distancing, empty stadiums, and the risk of infection all change the way games are played. One Russian soccer team in the country’s top league found this out the hard way when it was forced to field a youth team after all of its professional players were sidelined by a coronavirus outbreak. FC Rostov, which sits in fourth place in the Russian premier league, ended up losing 10-1 to PFC Sochi, ranked 6 places below them. Rostov had initially led 1-0 before the dramatic reversal. The club tried to put a positive spin on things in the wake of defeat, pointing to their 17-year-old goalkeeper’s 15 saves over the course of the match—a new league record.

That’s it for today. 

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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