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Russia-U. S. Meat Fight Heats Up Ahead Of Talks

As U. S. officials head to Moscow to try to assuage Russian concerns about meat safety, the political tension over the issue has been dialed up, raising fears the talks won’t bring quick relief.

U. S. chicken and pork have been effectively shut out of Russia, the No. 1 export market for poultry and in the top five for pork.

Russia has said U. S. meat must live up to new safety rules, which U. S. officials have said are unreasonable and have more to do with protectionism.

There are also signs beef exports could be affected by new rules, starting next month.

In 2008, U. S. exports of the three products to Russia were worth more than $1.3 billion, the chairman and the ranking Republican on the U. S. Senate agriculture committee said on Friday in a letter to President Barack Obama.

“We urge you to fully engage all administration resources to address these agricultural trade issues,” Blanche Lincoln and Saxby Chambliss said.

DIFFICULT TIMES

“Extended absence from this important market would be costly to our livestock and poultry producers, who already face a difficult financial situation due to the current economic recession,” the senators said.

The letter came a day after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned Russia will buy poultry elsewhere if the United States cannot comply with new rules, which forbid the use of chlorine on chicken – a routine treatment used by U. S. processors to kill bacteria that cause food poisoning.

“If some foreign suppliers do not want, or are unable to observe our safety demands, then we will have to use other sources,” Putin said on Thursday.

U. S. Agriculture Department Undersecretary Jim Miller and Assistant U. S. Trade Representative Jim Murphy will lead a technical delegation to Moscow to try to find a way for U. S. exports to continue.

“We will be discussing the vast scientific evidence demonstrating the safety of using chlorine as an antimicrobial for poultry,” USTR spokeswoman Nefeterius McPherson said, noting the delegation hoped to find a “mutually acceptable, science-based resolution to our differences.”

BREAKTHROUGH NOT EXPECTED

Russian meat industry players said they thought there could be room for compromise on the issue.

But Putin’s remarks are “a bad sign” for a quick resolution to the dispute, said Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics who specializes in Russian issues.

But it was also a typical move for Moscow, Aslund said. “They always talk tough just before they make an agreement,” he said.

The near-term prospects do not seem hopeful for the trade, which could affect meat companies like Tyson Foods, Sanderson Farms and Pilgrims Pride, said Mark McMinimy of investor advisory group Concept Capital.

“I think we’ll probably hear something about how … they got a better feel for the Russian side’s concerns, but I’m not expecting a breakthrough” from next week’s meeting, McMinimy said, adding he worries the market could be shut for months.

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