- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2002

MOSCOW (AP) U.S. and Russian officials met yesterday to discuss a Russian ban on U.S. poultry that has panicked American chicken producers and fueled tensions in advance of a presidential summit.
The talks between trade and agriculture officials from both nations got off to a good start, said the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Alexander Vershbow. He said the American delegation would stay in Moscow until the problem is resolved.
But a top Russian agricultural official said many problems remained, citing reports of tainted U.S. chicken, and that the negotiations would not be quick.
Russia's Agriculture Ministry imposed a ban as of Sunday on U.S. chicken the top American export to Russia, bringing in $600 million to $700 million a year to producers in 38 U.S. states. The ministry stopped issuing import permits on March 1, but chickens en route could still come in up to the day before yesterday.
The Russia ban could hit poultry producers in Maryland and Virginia fairly quickly.
During a similar flareup in 1996, producers in the United States began trimming back production soon after a Russian ban took effect.
Because Russia is the largest American export market, sales cannot simply be shifted to other countries, said Toby Moore, spokesman for the Atlanta-based U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council. So companies will have to make adjustments to production in the United States.
Russia says the ban reflects concerns about sanitary conditions and the use of antibiotics and feed additives in the United States. U.S. officials say the ban is not justified scientifically and accuse Moscow of protectionism.
Some claim that Russia's ban was a pre-emptive move to retaliate for U.S. duties on steel imports announced last week .
The twin disputes have threatened to explode into a large-scale trade war and have strained U.S.-Russian relations, which had warmed dramatically as a result of Moscow's firm support for the war in Afghanistan.
They also come as U.S. and Russian negotiators are preparing arms-control agreements and other documents for President Bush's visit to Russia in May.
Yesterday's talks included representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, as well as from Russia's Agriculture Ministry, the U.S. Embassy said.
The dispute "will not be solved as fast as the Americans would like, because the technical problems are rather large," Sergei Dankvert, Russia's first deputy agriculture minister, said in remarks to ORT television.
Staff writer Carter Dougherty contributed to this report.


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