U.S., Russia make progress in pork export talks

by Bryan Salvage
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DENVER — Efforts to resume U.S. pork exports to Russia got a boost in mid February due to face-to-face discussions in Moscow between U.S. industry representatives and Russia’s top veterinary officials.

U.S. pork exports have been effectively shut down for several weeks, because only a handful of U.S. facilities are still eligible to export pork to Russia.

Formal negotiations are continuing between the U.S. and Russian governments, but the Moscow meeting provided an opportunity for the pork industry to voice its position on several key issues. Thad Lively, U.S. Meat Export Federation senior vice-president, headed the U.S. industry delegation, which included representatives of 13 U.S. companies. The Russian team was headed by Dr. Nikolay Vlasov, Russia’s chief veterinary officer.

U.S. and Russian officials are very close to finalizing an agreement on a new pork health certificate, which would remove one of the obstacles that has interrupted pork trade, Mr. Lively said. The governments have also reached agreement on a new system, to be managed by U.S.D.A.’s Agricultural Marketing Service, for approving U.S. pork processing plants for export to Russia. He is also optimistic about gaining reinstatement for U.S. plants that were delisted because of their failure to pass an audit conducted by Russia in late 2008.

“I would characterize the meeting as a positive and constructive one, certainly the tone was very positive and all of us came away with the impression that we are well on our way to establishing a solid working relationship with the Russian vet service, and, in particular, chief veterinary officer Dr. Vlasov,” Mr. Lively said. “Our understanding in talking with Dr. Vlasov and his colleagues, as well as to U.S.D.A., is the two governments are very close to finalizing an agreement on a new health certificate, which has been one of the hurdles of getting back into the market.

“We also understand the two governments have agreed on the new system that will be managed by the Agriculture Marketing Service at U.S.D.A. for approving plants for export to Russia,” he added. “Both of those basic pieces are very close to being done and we are optimistic that we will see some announcements on both of those issues.”

“We felt we had a useful and healthful conversation with Dr. Vlasov and his colleagues about the audit procedure and what might be possible in terms of trying to get some of those plants re-listed,” Mr. Lively said. “From our conversation with the Russian vets, we understand it should be possible to do that in a fairly straightforward way by addressing the points the auditors made when they were in the plants and giving assurances to the Russians that their concerns were addressed.”

Some U.S. pork plants have also been delisted due to documentation errors discovered upon arrival of products shipped to Russia. Mr. Lively said recommendations for addressing documentation errors will be developed in coming weeks, and a proposal based on those recommendations will be presented to Russian officials.

Despite recent speculation that the U.S. beef industry may lose access to Russia, Mr. Lively said no trade interruptions have surfaced to date with regard to beef exports.

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