2 Months On, Poultry Feud Quiet

More than two months after Russian and U.S. officials reached a shaky d?tente over a chicken-import flap, all appears calm on the poultry front.

Although exports to Russia increased 40 percent in the first quarter of this year over the same period in 1995, according to the U.S. Poultry & Egg Export Council, analysts are taking care not to count their chickens -- well, too soon.

"If you think that a lot of the exporters and importers on both sides were rushing to get things in ... that might have skewed numbers a little bit," said Toby Moore, director of communications for the council, which oversees worldwide promotion for the American industry.

Russia earlier this year had threatened to ban imports of U.S. chicken -- worth $500 million in 1995 -- on health grounds, although analysts saw protection for domestic poultry producers as the underlying reason.

The spat went all the way to the presidential level before the two sides reached an agreement whereby the United States would tighten inspection procedures and issue special certificates for the Russia-bound poultry.

"The U.S. industry has gotten all the inspection issues resolved," Moore said. "The Russians have reviewed the plants, they've been approved."

Chicken imports to Russia are currently running at about 50,000 to 60,000 metric tons a month, roughly the rate of imports in 1995, according to Richard Lobb, a spokesman for the U.S. National Broiler Council, an industry lobby group.

Lobb agreed that a drop in exports in the second quarter attributed to the Russian ban was apparently made up by an earlier surge in exports this February.

"I'm not sure it was directly pertaining to the impending cutoff ... but that made up for the blip that occurred when they imposed the cutoff in March," he said.

A tariff disagreement -- whereby the Russians wanted to raise the 25 percent tariff on chicken based on an indexed price that would have resulted in doubling the tax -- has also been settled, Lobb said. Importers now pay a 30 percent tariff.

The tariff issue was resolved by presidential decree, according to Katherine Novelli, deputy assistant U.S. Trade Representative.

"We consider that the thing has been resolved now," Novelli said from Washington. "Exports are flowing ... We've worked out a system with the Russians on checking plants, and on the tariff issues they have stabilized the tariff situation so there is not an undue impediment to our accessing the market."