August 17, 2006

Russia says to hit imports of US meat if no WTO deal

By Aleksandras Budrys

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia threatened on Thursday to scrap
preferences for U.S. poultry and red meat shipments if
Washington failed to endorse Moscow's accession bid for the
World Trade Organization within three months.

"If talks (on Russia's WTO entry)...set for the end of
October in Geneva fail, Russia will have to return to its
original stance prior to agreements on (bilateral) meat trade
that had been reached," Economy Minister German Gref said in a
letter to U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab.

Excerpts from Gref's letter, first made available by
unnamed sources to the Kommersant business daily, were posted
on the ministry's official website at

Last month U.S. and Russian officials failed to reach a
trade deal in time for the Group of Eight summit in St.
Petersburg, where Russia had hoped to clinch a WTO accord with
the United States after Moscow's 13-year-old bid for

U.S. negotiator Schwab said at the time that a major
dispute centred on getting certain U.S. exports to Russia.
Agricultural products are among the biggest U.S. exports, with
poultry shipments alone worth hundreds of millions of dollars a

"The WTO is in a deep systemic crisis resulting from the
disruption of multilateral talks on agriculture. Most WTO
members link this to the rigid position of United States, and
in particular with that of Susan Schwab, who so 'successfully'
held talks with Gref in St.Petersburg," the Economy Ministry


"Under the circumstances, the government may not be able to
continue ignoring Russian farmers who urge to revise meat
quotas and annul all the concessions that Russia earlier
granted to the Americans and started implementing them in a
hope for a quick end to talks on WTO accession," it said.

Russia, a top consumer of U.S. poultry meat, banned imports
in March 2002 citing health concerns and lifted the ban a month
later after intense U.S. lobbying. The dispute coincided with
Russian anger at U.S. tariffs on steel imports, but neither
side has publicly linked the two issues.

Moscow and Washington signed a four-year deal last year
under which the United States was allowed to ship 811,900
tonnes of poultry meat to Russia in 2005 out of total quota of
1.09 million at a discount tariff.

The U.S. poultry imports were to rise to 931,500 tonnes in
2009 under the deal.

Russia imported 1.32 million tonnes of poultry last year
worth $848 million, with the bulk of the shipments originating
from the United States.

Russia is the largest country outside the 149-member trade
club, and a bilateral deal with Washington would remove the
last major obstacle to its accession.