US bird flu, trump card in Russian WTO negotiations

18-08-2006 | |
US bird flu, trump card in Russian WTO negotiations

Russia, the world’s largest poultry importer, may halt its imports from the US state of Michigan, because a mild strain of avian influenza was discovered there last week. The bird flu case is likely to give Russia a new trump card in negotiations between the two nations about Russia’s World Trade Organisation membership.

The Russian Federal Veterinary Service will tighten controls over US poultry supplies while it waits for an official avian influenza report from the United States, according to Alexei Alexeyenko, the veterinary service’s press secretary.

The two Michigan birds found to be infected with avian influenza do not have the lethal form that is spreading elsewhere in the world, according to US officials.

Russia has also threatened to tighten import barriers on US meat unless an agreement is reached about Russia joining the WTO by October. Unless Russia’s joining the WTO is agreed, Russia will cancel the existing preferences accorded to US in meat and poultry supplies, which could result in US poultry exports to Russia being cut by 40%.

The two countries were expected to sign the final protocol on the eve of the G8 summit, which took place in St Petersburg in the middle of July. But at the last moment the sides failed to reach an agreement on meat and poultry exports. The United States demanded that the exports be allowed freely, without any additional examinations by the Russian veterinary authorities. The Russian side insisted that special veterinary commissions have to check the US producers that want to export their products to Russia before they are given the green light.

In 2005, the US exported 742,390 tons of poultry to Russia worth around $600 million.