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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chicken Ban to Be Eased on Monday

Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev said Russia would partly lift its ban on U.S. poultry imports on Monday, but four states and 14 poultry plants would remain blacklisted.

In his announcement Saturday evening, Gordeyev, also a deputy prime minister, appeared to backtrack from earlier comments that the two sides had resolved a monthlong dispute that had strained Moscow-Washington ties.

U.S. President George W. Bush called President Vladimir Putin on Friday to urge an end to a dispute that threatens to overshadow their Moscow summit next month.

Russia imposed the ban March 10 citing health concerns, and it will remain in place for four U.S. states where Russian inspectors found diseased chicken and for 14 poultry plants that exported salmonella-tainted chicken to Russia, Interfax quoted Gordeyev as saying. He did not identify the states or plants.

Gordeyev accused the United States of double standards in allowing exports of poultry that would not be acceptable for domestic consumption. The United States denied this.

He said U.S. authorities had been warned that Russia will not allow the unloading in its ports of vessels carrying U.S. poultry sent to Russia while the ban was in force; only poultry sent from the United States after Monday will be accepted.

Poultry exports are big business, involving producers in 38 U.S. states that last year exported to Russia more than 1 million tons of poultry meat worth $640 million. Russia is the biggest buyer of U.S. chicken and turkey meat.

Earlier, the agriculture minister had praised U.S. efforts to address Moscow's safety concerns that had been outlined in a protocol signed March 31, and had made no mention of any exceptions.

"We must admit that our American colleagues have really considerably improved the quality of veterinary controls and undertaken a range of technical measures that should meet the veterinary demands of Russia," Gordeyev said Saturday on ORT television.

The March 31 protocol had outlined steps for lifting the ban on April 10, last Friday. But after U.S. officials submitted 300 pages of documents on Thursday to bolster their claim that U.S. poultry is safe, Gordeyev extended the ban to give his ministry time to translate and study the documents.

There was no immediate reaction to the latest twist in the poultry saga from U.S. government and poultry industry officials, who had welcomed the earlier announcement that the ban would be lifted as of Monday.

"We are pleased that Russia has met its commitment to the March 31 protocol and will lift its ban on U.S. poultry and poultry products," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said in a joint statement Saturday.

"We applaud the work of the teams from the United States and Russia who worked diligently to resolve this trade issue," the statement said. "The action today is an example of how trade disputes should be resolved in a reasoned and sound approach based on science, and we look forward to a continued positive trading relationship with Russia."

Russian officials say the ban was imposed because of concerns about sanitary conditions in U.S. plants, including salmonella contamination, and the use of antibiotics and feed additives in chicken production.

Washington accused Moscow of protectionism and insisted the poultry was safe.

Gordeyev said U.S. poultry would be subject to stricter controls than those for other countries because of concerns about U.S. health standards.

The poultry ban coincided with Washington's decision to slap hefty tariffs on steel imports into the United States, although neither side has publicly linked the two events.

U.S. trade officials have said the poultry ban is making it more difficult to negotiate Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization.

(Reuters, AP)