In Mexico's Trade Complaint: Parts Ain’t Parts

Take 30 seconds to relive part of the 1980s when fast food chain Wendy’s spent millions of dollars telling American consumers that snacks made from whole chicken breasts were better than nuggets made from “other parts.”

“Parts Is Parts” is something that entered our nation’s phrasebook right alongside Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” slogan.

I’ll admit I laughed when I watched the commercial recently. But I’m not sharing the link out of nostalgia, and I don’t see it as the same sort of video your friend posts on Facebook of a cute cat playing piano. It’s simply an efficient shortcut to explain the fatal flaw in an anti-dumping investigation under way by Mexico against U.S. poultry.

The Mexican government has concluded that U.S. poultry is being dumped there at prices lower than available north of the border and should be subject to anti-dumping import duties. The problem with that analysis, according to the U.S. poultry industry, is that the majority of U.S. poultry meat sold to Mexico is leg quarters, and U.S. consumers prefer white meat. As anyone who has been on the meat aisle in a grocery store knows, breast meat is far more expensive than leg quarters.

The “Parts Is Parts” ad proves that for at least the last three decades white meat has been considered a more desirable and expensive product, and companies have been willing to spend millions of dollars to let consumers know they used white meat and not other random parts.

The exact issue is at the center of a trade dispute at the World Trade Organization between the U.S. and China. China imposed anti-dumping duties in 2010 because U.S. poultry sold for less per pound in the U.S. than in China. It was mostly chicken paws sold to China, and there is virtually no demand for chicken paws in the U.S. market. In fact, before China started buying the commodity several decades ago, chicken processors had to pay to have the paws hauled to a landfill.

Because China also added a counterveiling duty, U.S. poultry now has a 104 percent import duty. The country quickly went from being the top market for U.S. poultry to a mere asterisk in U.S. export charts.

Mexico replaced China as the top U.S. export market for poultry producers; losing the market south of the border also would be a body blow. Perhaps U.S. government negotiators should screen the Wendy’s commercial for Mexican officials so they understand that parts ain’t parts.

Contact Stephanie Nall at stephnall@aol.com.

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