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Russia Agrees to Remove Poultry Ban

Trade: In return, U.S. will crack down on unsanitary plants and fake veterinary papers.


MOSCOW — Russia agreed Sunday to lift a ban on poultry imports from the United States, resolving a dispute that had clouded economic relations, the U.S. ambassador said.

In exchange, the United States agreed to adopt tougher controls on veterinary documents and measures against companies that exported salmonella-tainted chicken, U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said. There was no immediate comment from the Russian side.

Russia imposed the ban last month, citing concerns about sanitary conditions in U.S. plants and the use of antibiotics and feed additives in American chickens. U.S. officials said the ban was not justified scientifically, and accused Moscow of protectionism.

Vershbow said he and Russia's chief veterinary inspector, Mikhail Kravchuk, signed a protocol Sunday on the ban, and it would be lifted before April 10 after the United States meets requirements set by Russia.

Chicken is the top American export to Russia, bringing in $600million to $700 million a year to producers in 38 U.S. states.

Vershbow told a news conference that the issue of poultry imports had become the No. 1 problem in U.S.-Russian relations last month.

"This dispute has caused some harm to bilateral economic relations," Vershbow said. "That's undeniable."

The ban--along with recent U.S. sanctions on foreign steel, a major Russian export--had clouded relations ahead of President Bush's visit to Russia on May 23.

"With the visit of Bush two months away, there is a need to expand our cooperation, and it appears that this [poultry dispute] obstacle has been removed," Vershbow said.

He said there were two central issues in the dispute: discovery of salmonella in some imported poultry and irregularities, including forgery, in veterinary documents.

"After the U.S. side fully complies with the actions ... the Russian veterinary service will lift the temporary ban on U.S. poultry meat exports," the protocol said.

The United States agreed to exclude 14 American poultry producers temporarily from the list of approved exporters after their products were found to contain salmonella.

It also will use veterinary certificate forms with security features aimed at preventing forgery.

Vershbow said that in the talks, there was no evidence that American poultry shipments deviated from a 1996 agreement on health standards, and "we have heard of no cases where any poultry products have caused any harm to the Russian consumer."

"When the ban is lifted, all other U.S. companies will be able to resume trade, and hopefully the other [14 excluded] plants will soon be reinstated," Vershbow said.

Vershbow complained that Russia had fostered negative publicity about the safety of American food exports, tactics that he said could complicate Russia's desire to join the World Trade Organization.

"The handling of this dispute has been very much at variance with the kind of rules of the game that WTO members are expected to observe," he said.

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