By Adriana Barrera
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico expects to issue preliminary findings in an anti-dumping investigation into chicken imports from the United States toward the end of the month, a senior government official said on Wednesday.
In late January, Mexico announced the investigation into chicken leg and thigh imports from the United States, Mexico's top trading partner, following complaints by domestic chicken processors alleging unfair trade practices.
"We're just about to publish our preliminary findings," Victor Aguilar, an official with the economy ministry, told Reuters in an interview.
He said officials were working on publishing the findings by the end of the year, possibly in the last week of December.
These could trigger anti-dumping tariffs on U.S. imports, but Aguilar declined to say whether this was likely.
Mexican producers have argued since 2007 that below-cost chicken leg and thigh imports from the United States have increased substantially, eating up a larger share of the local market.
In the interview, Aguilar said Mexican producers had made a well-founded case of damage to the national industry.
He also confirmed that Mexican producers and U.S. exporters are negotiating a possible deal to end the dispute.
The head of the major U.S. poultry trade association dismissed the allegation of unfair trade practices.
"It is truly without merit. The (U.S.) industry is definitely not dumping," Jim Sumner, president of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council, said in a separate interview conducted by telephone.
"We have submitted a settlement proposal that we feel would address any concerns and also help resolve this issue for both sides," he said.
The proposal would hold U.S. exports to Mexico at 2010 levels. Sumner said it was supported by the U.S. and Mexican poultry industries.
Mexican imports of U.S. chicken surged nearly 18 percent in 2010 to 980 million pounds (445 million kilograms), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and totaled 855 million pounds (388 million kilograms) in the first 10 months of 2011.
According to the Mexican government, the amount of chicken leg and thigh imports from the United States in dispute is 570 million pounds (260 million kilograms).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture had no comment.
(Additional reporting and writing by David Alire Garcia, editing by Krista Hughes and Dale Hudson)