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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Meat Quota Move Shakes Up Brussels

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The European Union is seriously concerned about Russia's move to restrict meat imports and will seek consultations with Moscow, EU officials said Monday.

A Russian government spokesman earlier said Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov had signed resolutions setting annual import quotas, effective from April, for poultry meat, beef and pork.

The decision will hit the EU livestock industry hard and diplomats say that, while it is not explicitly aimed at the EU, the move seems to be an attempt by Moscow to force the 15-nation body to admit more grain imports from Russia.

This trade spat has been brewing ever since the EU agreed on a new grain import system late last year to curb the influx of cheap, low-quality wheat from Ukraine and Russia.

Russia takes up to half the European Union's beef exports, a third of its poultry sales and a quarter of its pork.

A European Commission spokesman said the full facts were still unclear and would only emerge in the coming days. He added that the Commission wanted to have face-to-face talks with Moscow.

"We will be asking for consultations in the framework of the EU-Russia agreement," he told reporters. "We are seriously concerned because of our major interests in these markets. It is clear that the quotas are to apply to all suppliers, so we do not see them as a reaction to our measures on cereals."

The final version of the Russian resolutions showed that quotas would be set for three years with the poultry quota at 1.05 million metric tons per year. Annual beef imports will be limited at 420,000 tons per year and pork imports at 450,000.

As the new regime will start only in April, different quota figures have been set for 2003.

Both Moscow and Brussels have repeatedly denied the link between the meat and grain quota sagas, both of which have been running for several months.

Livestock industry analysts said the Russian move would depress EU livestock prices, as removing this major export market would trigger an internal supply glut, particularly for pork.

"The people who are really going to be hit by this are the Danes," said an official at Britain's Meat and Livestock Commission.

"Poultry is the most complicated because there is an absolute ceiling, there isn't even an extended tariff quota beyond a certain quantity," he said.

Russia buys around a quarter of European pork exports with Denmark, Germany, France and the Netherlands the top four sellers.

Denmark accounted for the lion's share of the EU's overall exports of 1.26 million tons in 2001, of which 315,000 tons went to Russia.

Russia is the EU's largest single export market for beef and poultry, accounting for around one-half and one-third, respectively, of the bloc's overall exports in each sector.