SHANGHAI: China's threat – ahead of the G20 summit – to slash poultry imports from the US, as part of an on-going confrontation over trade, could be averted by the Asian nation's fondness for outsized chicken feet, US producers say.

In retaliation for President Obama's recent decision to levy tariffs on Chinese tyres, the country's authorities have announced they are considering imposing import taxes on both automotive products and chicken, a development that some trade experts fear could escalate into an all-out trade war.

Exports of American poultry totalled $4.34 billion (€2.95bn; £2.62bn) last year, and while only a small proportion of the meat ends up in China, producers say the high prices paid for delicacies such as wings and feet make these exports particulary profitable for an industry already badly hit by recession.

"We have these jumbo, juicy paws the Chinese really love," said Paul W. Aho, a poultry economist and consultant, "so I don't think they are going to cut us off, but hope we aren't going to engage in what could amount to a game of chicken."

While the US is by far the world's leading supplier of king-size chicken feet, reports from China suggest the domestic industry is working to develop new strains of poultry with similar characteristics.

Chicken wings and feet became highly-prized in Chinese cuisine during the days of Chairman Mao

“We have been told by our customers in China to continue to pack and ship product,” said Michael D. Cockrell, chief financial officer of Sanderson Farms, a major poultry producer based in Mississippi. "It gives us a little bit of optimism that we will get over this."

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff