In a new twist to the ongoing problem of cross-border smuggling, it has emerged that Hong Kong-based criminals unloaded thousands of tonnes of mislabelled chicken on the mainland last year, passing it off as 'made in America'. US Poultry Export Association spokesman Golden Gu says the chicken scandal has caused such a flap with American exporters that they are calling for direct shipping to mainland ports, cutting Hong Kong out of the process. Under a bilateral agreement signed at the end of 1999, the US is the only country that can export frozen chickens to China. Other producers must sell their birds in processed, ready-to-eat form. According to Chinese customs figures, the mainland last year imported 583,000 tonnes of poultry from the US. But US figures show exports to China of only 346,547 tonnes. Much of the extra 237,000 tonnes of poultry came from Hong Kong, where birds from New Zealand, Australia and Latin America are imported and then repacked to make them appear as though they come from the US, say people in the mainland poultry industry. The illegal imports are trucked to the mainland, where they sell at a substantial discount compared to American chickens. Since they enter the country with false documents, they are also a health risk. Mr Gu said that during a visit to Chengdu in March he visited a city food market and found frozen chickens labelled Gold Kist, one of the top seven US exporters, and marked with the identification number of a factory that did not belong to the company. The poultry came from Brazil. Mr Gu called on mainland buyers to import their chicken directly by sea to combat the smugglers. He said that chicken arriving direct from the US would arrive in the original container with the original health document and seal. Shipments made through Hong Kong and by road into the mainland offered the possibility of repacking the containers, avoiding import payments and the introduction of fake documents.