U.S.-Russian poultry agreement reported near

`Day or so' should tell, USDA official says

July 24, 2002|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Russian and U.S. trade representatives are close to reaching an agreement to fully open the door to more than $660 million a year in poultry exports from the United States to Russia, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported yesterday.

"We addressed the few outstanding differences that remain between us and agreed to exchange final documents," said J. B. Penn, the department's undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services.

"We should know in a day or so if we have reached final agreement.

"We fully expect to conclude this matter so that U.S. poultry trade to Russia can resume," Penn said.

Russia banned chicken imports from the United States in March and officially lifted it in May.

But technical hang-ups in the agreement have limited the amount of chicken being exported to Russia.

This month, Russia said it would reinstate the ban Aug. 1 if the two countries didn't reach a final agreement.

Russia has expressed concern over some practices used by U.S. chicken processors, including the use of chlorine baths and antibiotics.

Last year, the United States exported more than 1.1 million metric tons of poultry, worth $666.1 million, to Russia. Chicken, primarily frozen leg quarters, accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. farm exports to Russia.

Errol Small, director of international marketing and trade development at the state Department of Agriculture, said Maryland companies exported $66.7 million worth of chicken last year.

He said chicken was the state's leading agriculture export and that $14.7 million worth of chicken went to Russia last year.

Industry officials are not saying much about the current talks between Washington and Moscow.

`Playing it cool'

"Things are very sensitive," said Toby Moore, a spokesman for the U.S.A. Poultry & Egg Export Council in Atlanta. "We're backing off and not saying anything. We're playing it cool and letting the USDA take the lead. It's a government-to-government situation."

Poultry was a prime topic at a trade conference held yesterday by the state Agriculture Department and focusing on developing markets in Russia and Ukraine.

Despite the current interruption in trade, said Jeffrey Hesse, director of the USDA's agricultural trade office in Moscow, poultry is still a "best prospect" for companies seeking to sell to that part of the world.

Industry is growing

Hesse told the 25 people attending the conference that protectionism is playing a role in the poultry dispute.

The Russian poultry industry is smaller than that of the United States but is growing at a rate of 15 percent a year, he said.

"The Russian government saw this domestic growth and is trying to help them by putting up trade barriers," Hesse said.

Hesse said the poultry trade war is "an isolated situation" and is unlikely to affect other agriculture products.

Seafood market, too

He said demand for seafood in Russia is growing. U.S. seafood exports increased 146 percent last year and were valued at $8.5 million.

This year, seafood exports are up 110 percent.

"Russia is a growing and dynamic market with a lot of opportunities worth going after," Hesse said.

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