Live chicken imports from the mainland may resume in time to keep prices down ahead of next week's Mid-Autumn Festival, the health minister said yesterday.
Wholesalers had warned of a spike in prices later this week unless a deal could be agreed between local and mainland authorities to reverse a ban on imports imposed in February after a bird-flu scare. Fresh chicken is often the centrepiece of family feasts on and around Monday's festival.
The main barrier to agreement - quarantine arrangements to keep imported chickens away from locally bred ones - has been resolved, but Hong Kong is waiting on official authorisation from one mainland department, which was not identified.
"All of us would like to see the resumption of live poultry imports," Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said. "Preparation work on the ground is already under way and imports can be resumed once we receive the official notification.
"There is a chance live poultry imports will resume before the Mid-Autumn Festival."
Ko said if notification was given by mainland authorities, it would have to come soon as poultry would be needed two to three days before the festival. The mainland used to provide about 7,000 live chickens for sale every day, against 12,000 bred locally.
Imports were suspended - initially for four months - at the end of a three-week ban on live chicken sales, which was prompted by the discovery of the H7N9 bird-flu virus in a sample from a supplier in Guangzhou in January. The import ban was put in place until a way could be found to prevent mainland birds from mixing with local birds at the wholesale market in Cheung Sha Wan before they had been tested for bird flu.
Poultry Wholesalers Association chairman Tsui Ming-tuen said prices would go up before the festival due to a shortage. He said mainland farmers who supplied the city were selling their produce on the mainland, but were ready to resume exports.
But a chicken retailer at Kowloon City wet market did not expect a sales spike. "Since it is a long weekend, many people will go abroad for the holiday," she said. "For those who stay in Hong Kong, many young people prefer to dine out for the festival."
Retail prices for live chicken have risen from about HK$40 per catty (600 grams) in February to about HK$60 now.