Russia’s move to ban U.S. meat imports worth over $500 million each year, over a feed additive, will help domestic producers withstand an influx of cheap meat after Russia joined the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Western food producers believe protectionism, rather than concern about additives, is its primary purpose.
The influx has driven down pork prices in particular and threatens hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in modern pig farms to supply Russian consumers, who are eating more meat as oil-fuelled government spending drives up incomes.
Russia’s Veterinary and Phyto-Sanitary Surveillance Service (VPSS), Rosselkhoznadzor in Russian, has said it will ban imports of U.S. beef, pork and turkey from this month because U.S. producers failed to agree to demands that their exports be certified free of a feed additive, ractopamine.
“Import is being restrained by the actions of Rosselkhoznadzor, and that is a stimulating factor for domestic production,” Vladimir Labinov, the head of the livestock department of the Agriculture Ministry, said this week.
The United States made its opposition clear.
“These actions threaten to undermine our bilateral trade relationship,” Andrea Mead, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, said last week.
“They are not consistent with international standards and appear to be inconsistent with Russia’s WTO commitments.”
Rosselkhoznadzor said U.S. producers had ample time to comply after warnings were issued early last year, well before Russia joined the WTO, over use of ractopamine, a growth stimulant used to produce leaner meat.
Brazilian and Canadian producers have promised to comply.
Some Russian officials say their country could have made more of the issue of the stimulant.
“We put ourselves at a technical disadvantage,” Rosselkhoznadzor chief Sergei Dankvert told a meeting chaired by Agriculture Minister Nikolai Fyodorov. “We did not say anything, even though we knew about this ractopamine.”
The United Nations Codex Alimentarius group has ruled ractopamine in meat was not harmful to human health at low levels, but some countries, such as China, still ban it.
A western food industry source said the ractopamine ban was simple protectionism for domestic producers.
“It is part of the protectionist measures they are taking against all imports,” the source said, adding the threat to bar other meats as well as pork was done for the sake of consistency.
“If you are going to take a decision on ractopamine, you have to be consistent.”
It is not the first time Rosselkhoznadzor has faced accusations of protectionism.
The European Union complained openly of a “surge in protectionist measures” and lack of commitment to global trade rules last year after Russia banned imports of live animals from the bloc before its formal entry to the WTO.