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US meat exports to Russia soared in run-up to ban

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Moscow's, effective, ban on US beef and pork follows one of the best months for Russian imports of American meat, trade data revealed, highlighting the potential significance of the restrictions.

Exports of US pork to Russia jumped 26%, year on year, to 13,278 tonnes in October, far exceeding the 8.7% rise in shipments overall, data from the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) showed.

Indeed, it was the best month for pork exports to Russia since May 2010. By value, it promoted Russia by one place to sixth in the league of biggest buyers of US pork.

For beef, the October exports to Russia of 11,702 tonnes, up 70% year on year, were the best ever for the month.

They also represented 11.5% of all US beef shipments, ranking Russia the fourth biggest market by volume.

'Very serious issue'

The data come amid efforts by US trade representatives to keep the route open after Russia revealed that it was, from last Saturday, to require shipments of beef and pork to by certified as free of ractopamine, a hormone which promotes animal growth and leaner meat.

The additive, which according to some estimates is fed to 60-80% of the US pig herd, has been linked to health concerns, although a United Nations ruling in July recommended a maximum level of ractopamine that could be permitted in meat, rather than taking a zero-tolerance approach.

Russia's new measures in essence ban imports of US beef and pork, given that that America has no routine mechanism for certifying meat as ractopamine free.

"We see this as a very serious issue," a USMEF spokesman told Agrimoney.com, while adding that he was unable yet to estimate the impact on trade.

Ongoing talks

However, the federation was "hopeful" that ongoing talks between Russian and US officials "will find a solution agreeable to both countries", and remove the threat to shipments.

Already Moscow has relaxed some conditions so that, as an alternative to requiring documentation at the point of departure, exporters can opt to have meat tested on arrival in Russia.

"The details are still being sorted out," the spokesman said.

The curbs also come as Russian health watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor is considering a ban on beef imports from Brazil, following official confirmation that a Brazilian cow which died in 2010 had been found to contain a protein which causes BSE, although the animal had not died from the disease.

'Significantly more price risk'

A report by Paragon Economics and Steiner Consulting said that Moscow's move did "not necessarily," mean an end to US beef and pork exports to Russia, even if no concessions are made.

"US pork producers and processors have been producing non-ractopamine fed pigs for China for some time," the briefing said.

"Beef producers could do the same, we suppose, if the markets are large enough and pay well enough."

Nonetheless, the group's said that Russia's move was "only the latest reminder of the inherent vulnerability of export demand.

"It is a key wild card that introduces significantly more price risk and volatility."

US hog farmers in particular have relied on export markets to swallow up a rise in pork supplies caused by higher slaughter rates brought on by high feed prices, which have left pig producers running at a loss.

By Agrimoney.com

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