The two sides are negotiating over terms of potential shipments
after South Korea lifted a ban on imports of U.S. table eggs that it
imposed when the United States grappled with its own bout of bird
flu last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
If an agreement is reached, U.S. shipments could bring some relief
to South Koreans who have faced soaring egg prices and rationing
since the outbreak there began last month.
The egg shipments also would help U.S. farmers cope with an
oversupply that is depressing prices.
The opportunity to profit by filling South Korea's shortfall with
U.S. eggs has sent brokers and traders into overdrive.
About 26 million birds, more than a quarter of South Korea's poultry
stock, have been culled to control the outbreak, and most of the
birds have been egg-laying hens.
Strains of bird flu, which can be spread to poultry by wild birds,
have been detected across Asia and in Europe in recent weeks. Two
people in China and one person in Hong Kong have died in the
The United States could reach agreement to open trade with South
Korea as early as next week, said Mark Perigen, national supervisor
for shell eggs for a division of the USDA.
"Everybody's working hard to get it done," Perigen said in an
interview on Friday, adding that USDA employees had worked during
holiday vacations on the issue.
"They're desperate for eggs over there, and the government realizes
that," Perigen said.
South Korea's embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a
phone message seeking comment.
Glenn Hickman, chief executive of Hickman's Eggs in Arizona, has
received calls from brokers searching for U.S. eggs to ship to South
"Everybody in Korea who needs eggs has Googled everybody in the
world who might have eggs," Hickman said.
"We're getting calls from brokers who have no idea even the right
questions to ask us," he added. "It's just somebody who knows how to
freight stuff from the U.S. to Korea."
With no agreement yet between the two countries, Hickman is asking
employees to take contact information for the potential customers.
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United States Egg Marketers, a cooperative of farmers that was
established to export eggs, has received "numerous inquiries about
this already, including from people who have never exported anything
in their lives," said Eka Inall, the group's president.
"Our phone is blowing up, our email is blowing up," she said.
Last year, U.S. food companies imported eggs from Europe after bird
flu ravaged domestic chicken flocks and sent egg prices to record
Since then, U.S. prices have tumbled as farmers have ramped up
The United States produced 7.44 billion table eggs in November, up
11.5 percent from a year earlier, and there were 312 million hens
laying table eggs on Dec. 1, up 8 percent from a year before,
according to USDA.
On Dec. 26, the average price for a dozen large white U.S. eggs was
$1.17, down from a high of $2.88 in August 2015, according to market
data firm Urner Barry.
"Current conditions in the U.S. are definitely a motivating factor
to get this thing done," Brian Moscogiuri, an Urner Barry egg
analyst, said about U.S. efforts to start shipments to South Korea.
If South Korea begins importing U.S. eggs, its residents may need to
adjust to a different appearance of the food staple.
Jim Sumner, president of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council,
said many Koreans prefer brown colored eggs, while the United States
mostly produces white eggs.
"As they say, beggars can't be choosers," he said.
(Editing by Matthew Lewis and Michael Perry)
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