New Russian inspection rules could slow U.S. beef exports to the market beginning Feb. 1, according to the two leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee. In a letter to President Obama, committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and ranking minority member Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said that if the Russian standards are put into place, they would significantly affect U.S. beef exports. "We urge you to fully engage all administration resources to address these agricultural trade issues," the senators told the president.
Russia's veterinary service has asked USDA to re-inspect U.S. beef plants exporting to Russia by Feb. 1, and bar any of those which do not meet Russian requirements from shipping meat, said Nefeterius McPherson, a spokeswoman for the Office of the U.S Trade Representative. "The United States and Russia have mutually agreed-upon audit requirements, in place of Russian requirements, that U.S. beef production facilities must meet to be eligible to export to Russia," she added.
McPherson also said U.S. trade officials will discuss the altered rules in Moscow during talks about Russian food safety measures that have already effectively banned imports of U.S. chicken and pork.
The U.S. meat industry is watching the situation to see whether it escalates, another industry official said, noting it was too early to tell whether beef exports would be affected.
Russia has effectively banned imports of U.S. poultry amid concerns about a chlorine wash used by US producers. It also banned almost all U.S. pork in recent weeks on allegations the meat contained excessive antibiotic residues.
USDA Under Secretary Jim Miller went to Moscow the week of Jan. 18 for two days of meetings on the subject of meat trade. His statement to reporters after the meetings was noncommittal and couched in diplomat-speak, but he did reveal that the two sides will continue their discussions.
"We shared information and both sides have a better understanding of each other's positions," said Jim Miller. "Both sides agreed that the work and discussions will continue in the coming weeks with the goal of resolution."
In the first 11 months of 2009, Russia was the 10th-largest market for US beef, buying 4,101 tonnes, but this was down 74 percent from year-earlier levels.