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030932 Russia Agrees to Ease Meat Import Limits

September 30, 2003

Washington - Russia has agreed to ease import quotas on U.S. chicken, pork and beef, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said.

The agreement, Zoellick told reporters, should allow the United States to ship Russia annually about $700 million in poultry products roughly 1 million tons the same as in 2001 but 25% more than would have been allowed under quotas announced in April.

U.S. beef and pork shipments to Russia also will increase, but the details on the tariff-rate quotas have yet to be worked out, Zoellick said. Russia capped beef imports from all sources last spring at 420,000 metric tons and pork imports at 450,000 tons. The new tariff rate quotas will guarantee U.S. exporters a share of the market at low tariffs, but once the quota has been reached, the tariffs will rise, Zoellick said.

"This agreement ensures American poultry, pork and beef exports to Russia at historical levels and adds room to grow," he said.

Last year, the United States shipped 71,490 tons of beef to Russia, worth about $59.6 million. Pork exports totaled 15,893 tons worth about $21.5 million.

Jon Caspers, president of the National Pork Producers Council, said problems with poultry trade had led exporters to stuff chicken into freezers normally filled with pork.

"The Russian restrictions backed up the poultry supply in the U.S. and brought down the prices of U.S. pork and live hogs," he said.

Russia is the single largest foreign market for U.S. poultry, the fifth largest foreign purchaser of American beef and the seventh largest buyer of U.S. pork.

A year ago Russian inspectors found a dozen American poultry plants in violation of their food safety standards and refused to accept products from them. U.S. officials then began negotiating language that would give the American plants more flexibility in meeting the Russian standards.

Russian officials this summer began visits to about 350 American poultry plants. All but 50 or so have now been certified to export, Toby Moore, a spokesman for the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council, said Monday.

"The Russians are going to, we think, maybe in the next month or two inspect those remaining plants," Moore said.

Many of the discrepancies involve putting lids on trash cans or covering drains, problems that can be resolved easily, he said.

Zoellick acknowledged that the poultry dispute had become an issue in Russia's efforts to join the World Trade Organization. As part of those efforts, Russia has been trying to get the United States to lift permanently 1974 Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions imposed in response to the Soviet Union's treatment of Jewish dissidents.

"The agreement is very important because it will remove three of the most important stumbling blocks for Congress," Zoellick said. The deal "represents a positive step that will improve the overall context of Russia's WTO accession process."

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