Moscow delays lifting of chicken ban

Last-minute snags likely to extend embargo on U.S. fowl a day or two

April 11, 2002|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

The anticipated lifting of the ban on U.S. export of chicken to Russia will be delayed for at least a day or two, officials announced yesterday.

Russian officials had agreed last week to lift the ban by yesterday if the U.S. fulfilled certain conditions, including tougher controls on veterinary documents and measures against companies that exported salmonella-tainted chicken.

Talks between the two nations dragged late into the night in Moscow, but negotiators failed to reach an agreement before the midnight deadline for lifting the ban.

The Russians said they needed more time to study the information provided by the United States to prove that its poultry is safe to eat.

"We are translating 300 pages of data provided by the Americans," Russian Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev said in a statement in Moscow. "Once they are translated, our veterinarians will study them. It might take two days."

George Watts, president of the National Chicken Council, expressed optimism yesterday afternoon that the trade block would be lifted.

But when no agreement was reached, he said the poultry trade and lobbying organization would reserve judgment on the negotiations until later today.

A lot is riding on the talks.

Russia is the largest overseas customer for U.S. chicken. About 8 percent of the chicken produced in Maryland and 37 other states finds its way to markets in Russia.

Russia imported 1.1 million metric tons of U.S. chicken, primarily leg quarters, valued at about $630 million, last year.

Maryland and the Delmarva Peninsula are big players in the market.

Broiler production accounted for 31.4 percent of Maryland's total farm receipts last year, and Russia is the state's primary market for poultry exports, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

The department says that nearly a fourth of all the poultry exported from Maryland ends up in Russia. State chicken exports to Russia last year were valued at $14.7 million.

Delmarva poultry processors employ about 14,000 workers. Another 2,500 families raise birds for the processing plants.

The economic impact of the Russian ban on Maryland does not end there. In a letter to the state's congressional delegation immediately after Russia imposed its trade embargo, state Agriculture Secretary Hagner R. Mister noted that the bulk of the grain grown in Maryland goes to the poultry industry for use as chicken feed.

There has been some speculation within the Russian news media that the chicken ban was Russia's response to a decision by President Bush in early March to impose tariffs of up to 30 percent on certain imported steel products, including shipments from Russia.

Russian officials have denied any connection between the two. They say the ban has to do with the health aspects of U.S. chicken. They have complained about improper labeling, the use of additives and traces of salmonella in chicken arriving from the United States.

President Bush warned Russian President Vladimir V. Putin last month that the chicken dispute may change the focus of their May 23 summit, overshadowing such issues as terrorism and nuclear arms.

Bloomberg News and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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