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OFFICIALS SEE POTENTIAL FOR U.S. RED MEAT IN RUSSIA

A bilateral trade agreement signed November 19 between the United States and Russia will provide some tremendous opportunities for the U.S. livestock and meat industry, says Philip M. Seng, the president and CEO of the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). Those opportunities will only be seized, though, if U.S. producers and meat exporters recognize the new opportunity.

“Commitment from this industry to a market that has tremendous potential – especially now that it has oil wealth in its favor – is something that we need right now,” says Seng.

Convincing U.S. industry to participate in the market won't be cut-and-dried, he says. “Because of the delays and difficulties seen with opening and dealing with the Russian market, a lot of people in this industry have become discouraged,” Seng says. “But USMEF has tremendous contacts in both eastern and western Russia, and can introduce U.S. suppliers to buyers in that country. Russia is changing, and presenting some great opportunities.”

USMEF has offices in both Moscow and St. Petersburg, according to Seng, and has maintained its operations there through difficult times to assure continuous connection with potential buyers in the retail and foodservice markets. In addition, the organization has established relationships with U.S. meat exporters, who have products ideally suited to the Russia market.

Much of the distrust among U.S. suppliers is due to regular disruptions in meat trade caused by the Russians, Seng says. Some of these disruptions have been the result of international disagreements, while many have been domestic challenges in Russia itself. Now that Russia is expected to be part to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Seng says, there “will be more disciplines in the trade relationship,” with Russia expected to abide by more global, internationally-accepted trading practices.

There are still some steps that need to be taken before the agreement can be ratified, Seng says. For one thing, Russian officials still must visit and audit U.S. meat plants. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) also must change its library to acknowledge the new agreement. And an Export Verification (EV) program from USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) must be published.

Beef, Pork Benefits

When the Russian market opens to U.S. beef, however, both boneless and bone-in beef from animals 30 months of age or less will be allowed into the country. Pork producers also will benefit, as freezing pork alone will allow the product to be sold in both retail and processing markets. Previously Russians had raised questions about trichinae in pork – even though trichinosis has not been an issue in the United States for many years.

In addition, new protocols for U.S. red meat plant approvals will be adopted. Previously, only individual plant approvals were granted. “This was onerous, and also called into question the U.S. Department of Agriculture sovereignty over the U.S. inspection service, as well as the plants themselves,” Seng says.

When all of the paperwork has been done and the details ironed out, however, Seng says U.S. export possibilities will be greatly expanded. “The USMEF has always identified Russia as a major growth market,” he says. “Prior to 2003 it was the sixth largest U.S. export market for beef, and through September of this year was the seventh largest market for pork, by value. We see this as very positive going forward.”

The U.S. Meat Export Federation is the trade association responsible for developing international markets for the U.S. red meat industry and is funded by USDA, exporting companies, and the beef, pork, lamb, corn, sorghum and soybean checkoff programs.

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