WASHINGTON – Russia and the U.S. have reached an agreement to reopen the Russian market to U.S. pork and pork products, announced Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on March 5.

"Exports are extremely important to the U.S. pork industry," Mr. Vilsack said. "Reopening the market with Russia – our fifth-largest market last year - is excellent news for American hog producers."

In 2009, the U.S. exported approximately 20% of our pork production. Russia imported $257 million worth – 6% -- of U.S. pork and pork variety meat exports last year.

Since December 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative have been in negotiations with the Russian Veterinary Service after Russia notified U.S.D.A. of its intent to restrict pork shipments from 13 U.S. pork plants, which accounted for more than 90% of U.S. pork exports to Russia. Negotiations led to developing a new veterinary certificate to ensure that pork exports from the U.S. meet specific Russian microbiological and tetracycline-group antibiotic residue requirements.

Next, U.S. plants wanting to export to Russia must apply for approval with the Agricultural Marketing Service (A.M.S.). A.M.S., in collaboration with the Food Safety and Inspection Service (F.S.I.S), has developed an Export Verification (E.V.) program for pork to Russia to address specific product requirements.

Export Verification programs are designed to facilitate marketing and export of U.S. products. Companies wanting to participate in U.S.D.A.'s E.V. Programs must meet the specified product requirements through a U.S.D.A. Quality System Assessment (Q.S.A.) Program. The Q.S.A. Program ensures the specified product requirements are supported by a documented quality management system. Products produced under an approved E.V. Program are eligible to be issued an F.S.I.S. Export certificate. A.M.S. is expected to approve the first plants as early as next week. F.S.I.S. will then provide Russian authorities with a list of approved U.S. pork facilities.

Since Monday, a U.S. delegation led by James Miller, Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, and Jim Murphy, assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Agricultural Affairs, has been meeting with Russian officials in Moscow to discuss trade issues related to pork and poultry.

U.S.D.A. relays talks on poultry have been constructive and technical discussions will continue in the coming weeks.