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Russia May Allow U.S. Poultry Shipments to Resume Soon

Moscow and Washington have been in talks since the start of the year on how U.S. firms process poultry meat. Jefri Aries

The United States may be able to start shipping poultry in a month, a spokesman for Russia's veterinary watchdog said Thursday, calling the breakthrough a reward for Moscow's hard line in its negotiations with Washington.

"It will depend on the desire of the U.S. suppliers to resume exports of poultry to Russia as soon as possible, which I think they want very much," Alexei Alexeyenko, a spokesman for the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Control, told The Moscow Times. "I expect this to happen by the end of June."

Russia maintained a tough stance in its negotiations with the United States, and it looks like the effort was not in vain, Alexeyenko said.

"First, the U.S. side didn't even want to hear about banning chlorine for the poultry exported to Russia, and they continued to tell us that the U.S. safety rules allowing it were very trustworthy," he said. "We kept explaining that this country has its own laws, and importers are obliged to obey."

Washington offered a choice of 22 chemicals that they could use in place of chlorine to disinfect the poultry, but many of them also were prohibited in Russia, he said.

"Finally we reached a compromise by agreeing on the chemicals that satisfy both sides. Under the new rules, importers will be obliged to indicate which substance was used in a separate document in addition to the veterinary certificate," he said.

Gennady Onishchenko, head of the Federal Consumer Protection Service, told reporters Thursday that a tentative agreement was reached to resume supplies, without elaborating on the terms. The Agriculture Ministry and the U.S. Department of Agriculture still need to exchange formal letters outlining the terms of the agreement, he said.

Imports were frozen at the beginning of the year after long-planned regulations went into effect that forbid the import of poultry treated with chlorine, which is used by many U.S. producers. The Federal Consumer Protection Service signed the measure in June 2008, but the rules' start date was later pushed to Jan. 1, 2010.

But U.S. poultry producers — who supplied 750,000 metric tons last year, or 20 percent of the market — are unlikely to regain their former market share, analysts say.

In early February, President Dmitry Medvedev signed a new "food security" doctrine, which called for 85 percent of all meat consumed in the country to be produced domestically by 2020.

The Cabinet has taken an even more aggressive stance on poultry. In January, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Russia should be able to cease all poultry imports by 2015, while Agriculture Minister Yelena Skrynnik said the amount of poultry imports should be cut to zero within just three years.

Russia will produce 3.1 million metric tons of poultry per year by 2012, according to the ministry's forecast, up from 2.5 million metric tons in 2009. Cherkizovo Group, the country's biggest poultry producer, said Wednesday that its first-quarter profit rose 17 percent on higher prices and output.? 

Onishchenko also said Thursday that Russia was ready to resume supplies of Georgian wine and mineral water but that Georgian manufacturers should take the lead and prove that their produce complies with regulations, RIA-Novosti reported.

"We are ready to consider [Georgian businessmen's] proposals. We are ready to cooperate with them," Onishchenko said. "It is a difficult process, but it should begin."

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