DENVER – Russia remains effectively closed to U.S. pork exports as nearly 30 processing plants have been delisted for shipments to Russia, leaving only a handful of plants eligible. Paul Clayton, U.S. Meat Export Federation senior vice-president for export services, says it’s a serious situation that’s being treated as a full market closure.

“The few plants we do have available are not very large plants and have not been really accessing that market to a great extent,” Mr. Clayton said. “U.S.M.E.F. has been working very closely with other industry associations — the National Pork Producers Council and the National Pork Board — in working with U.S.D.A. as to come up with some solutions to get this market reopened and working for us.

“We’re pushing very hard on our federal government to keep this as a top line item,” he added. “I do believe the government believes it is a top line item and they’re working very hard on it. They have a lot of resources put forward, both within the Food Safety & Inspection Service and Foreign Agricultural Service —and I understand the U.S. Trade Representative is also involved in some of these issues so it is a big issue and a top priority for all of us in the industry.”

Mr. Clayton said with Russia unwilling to move off of its own import standards, creative solutions are being sought that will allow U.S. processors back into the market.

“One of the things in progress right now is to work with the U.S. government on a program that would allow the exporters to meet the Russian standards and allow our government to sign certificates stating that,” he added. “At this point in time, we’re still waiting to hear back from the U.S.D.A. as they go through their discussions and deliberations relative to these new changes in our regulations.”

Mr. Clayton added it is a top priority to find a comprehensive solution to this issue that will restore eligibility for all U.S. plants.

“We may have to end up going plant-by-plant, but our goal would be to get them to agree to what our procedures are going to be, how U.S.D.A. will verify those procedures and agree to open up to all of our plants that are under the program.”

Through October 2009, U.S. pork exports to Russia declined by more than 40% compared to the same period in 2008, due in part to limited market access, U.S.M.E.F. said.