DENVER – Russia’s long-awaited accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) could be completed near the end of next year, or in early 2012.

How would WTO membership for Russia impact the US’s ability to export pork and beef to this important market? Thad Lively, senior vice president for trade access for the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) says Russia’s accession to the WTO should improve the overall trade relationship between the two countries and reduce some trade barriers for US pork and beef. It is too early to tell, however, if this would eliminate longstanding obstacles such as Russia’s tariff rate quota system, which imposes significant tariffs on meat imports that exceed a set volume in a calendar year.

“This is good for the economic interest of both countries,” he said. “And that will have an effect on the broader trading relationship, which has been difficult in some respects for meat exports to Russia. More specifically, by agreeing to join the WTO, Russia will come under all of the rules of the WTO and that will mean for example the Russian veterinary requirements will now need to conform to the international standards that would move things a long way in the right direction and we think remove a lot of the technical issues that have stood in the way of us fulfilling our potential for beef and pork exports to Russia in recent years.”

However, it is less clear whether WTO membership would impact long-term obstacles, such as Russia’s tariff rate quota system, which imposes significant tariffs on meat imports exceeding a certain volume.

“It’s hard to answer that question at this stage in the game,” he admitted. “I think the negotiations will be turning to that question very soon early in 2011 and we’ll get a clearer idea. We view Russia as an important market for both beef and pork. Our exports there this year with beef will probably reach around $150 million and roughly $200 million for pork. Already it’s an important market, but we see the potential for us to grow our exports into Russia in the coming years. So, the terms that are finally agreed to, whether it’s quotas or tariffs or some combination of the two, will make a big difference.”