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Vilsack, Kirk threaten Russia with WTO action

The celebration in farm circles that Senate passage Thursday of a bill granting Russia permanent normal trade relations status with the United States would lead to increased exports was short-lived.

On Friday, Russia banned meat imports that contain ractopamine, a feed additive that is used in the United States to make meat leaner but which is banned in the European Union and China.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Trade Representative Ron Kirk noted that since Russia joined the World Trade Organization earlier this year, it has obligations to live up to WTO standards.

“The United States is very concerned that Russia has taken these actions, which appear to be inconsistent with its obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization,” Vilsack and Kirk said in a joint statement.

“The United States calls on Russia to suspend these new measures and restore market access for U.S. beef and pork products. The United States sought, and Russia committed as part of its WTO accession package, to ensure that it adhered rigorously to WTO requirements and that it would use international standards unless it had a risk assessment to justify use of a more stringent standard. Especially in light of its commitment to use international standards, this is an important opportunity for Russia to demonstrate that it takes its WTO commitments seriously.”

The United States exports more than $500 million in beef and pork a year to Russia, and the ban would make U.S. producers significantly less competitive than Chinese and European Union producers, Reuters reported.

Russia is demanding proof that meat is ractopamine-free, but the U.S. Meat Export Federation and the Agriculture Department have no testing and certification program in place for ractopamine, Reuters added.

The House and Senate PNTR bills contained provisions that seek to punish Russian human rights violators. The move to ban meat with ractopamine may be retaliation, although Russian officials denied it.