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Moscow OKs U.S. Poultry

Imports: Products from four states and 14 companies remain banned because of diseases, Russia says.


MOSCOW — Russia partially lifted a ban on U.S.-produced poultry Monday, formally ending a nasty trade dispute that has clouded relations in advance of a presidential summit next month.

But the Agriculture Ministry said poultry from four states and 14 producers, about 25% of pre-embargo imports, will still be excluded, making it unlikely that the largest U.S. export to Russia will fully rebound in the near future.

"It may take some time to get back to where we were, if we ever do," Toby Moore, president of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council, said by telephone from his office in Georgia. "The image of U.S. poultry has been harmed deeply."

Russia announced the ban on U.S.-produced chicken and turkey in early March, on the heels of the Bush administration's imposition of heavy tariffs on imported steel from Russia and other countries.

Russian officials deny that the chicken ban was imposed as retaliation. They have complained that American poultry violates Russian standards for hygiene and additives, including antibiotics.

On March 31, Russian and U.S. negotiators reached agreement on new standards for U.S. poultry. The United States says that in the last two weeks, it has made changes in testing and documentation to comply with the new standards, leading to the Russian announcement Monday.

Poultry from the four excluded states--North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maine--has still been found to be infected with "avian influenza," Russia's Agriculture Ministry said. Poultry from the 14 excluded companies has been found to contain salmonella, it said. It did not release a list of the companies.

"The Agriculture Ministry notes that at the present time, there are effectively two separate standards of veterinary control in the United States. One, which requires strict adherence to all medical norms and necessary standards, is used for the internal U.S. market. The other, extremely liberal with only half-hearted enforcement, is applied to exports, including those intended for Russia," the ministry said.

American chicken has been popular in Russia since the first Bush administration, when the drumsticks earned the nickname "Bush legs." At the time, American tastes had swung in favor of white breast meat, leaving chicken producers with a surplus of legs. Russians preferred dark leg meat, and U.S. poultry became a $640-million-a-year export to Russia.

The frozen legs, sold for about 65 cents a pound in Moscow, are especially popular with pensioners, who can afford few other kinds of meat. Before the embargo, Russia bought more than half of all the chicken exported from the United States.

Russian producers have been trying to break into the U.S. market share, so far unsuccessfully. They accuse the United States of selling the chicken legs at prices so low that local producers can't compete.

That is the same complaint U.S. steelmakers aim at Russian steel producers. The tariffs have hit Russia hard because steel is one of the few manufactured products in which the country is internationally competitive. Russian Economics Minister German O. Gref is in Washington this week to discuss the dispute.

Viktor A. Kremenyuk, deputy director of the USA-Canada Institute in Moscow, said Russian complaints about poultry disease and antibiotics are just excuses for protectionism: "The chicken scandal was designed by Russian poultry breeders with a sole purpose of boosting market prices for poultry."

However, he said, the timing was arranged for maximum political advantage.

Anti-Americanism is on the rise in Russia, exacerbated by the U.S. war on terrorism and by the Olympics judging and drug scandals that hurt Russia's standing in Salt Lake City. After the steel tariffs, U.S. poultry has become a popular target of discontent.

President Bush is scheduled to visit Russia on May 23 to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin.


Sergei L. Loiko of The Times' Moscow Bureau contributed to this report.

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