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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

State Pulls Meat Import Permits

The Agriculture Ministry revoked all import licenses for meat and poultry Friday without warning or explanation.

The decision will effectively halt all shipments of meat and poultry from abroad starting next week, Russian news agencies reported. Importers will have to reapply for the permits, known as veterinary licenses -- a process that could take weeks, given Russia's tangled bureaucracy.

While it did not say so Friday, the government has clearly been moving in recent weeks to protect the domestic meat industry. Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev said Wednesday that the government would begin imposing quotas on meat imports beginning in May that would reduce total imports by about one-third.

The quotas are the first Russia has ever imposed on foreign meat, an agricultural specialist at a Western embassy in Moscow said Friday.

As Russian industries mature, they, like those in more developed countries, have begun to demand that their government erect trade barriers to shield them from foreign competition. The government agreed last year to levy high taxes on used foreign cars, the main rivals of new Russian-made cars.

Russia had been importing about two-fifths of the meat it consumes. In comments Friday, Gordeyev said Russia should eventually stop importing meat altogether.

"Western companies want to gain ground on the Russian market, and we should take steps to curb these aspirations," he told Prime-Tass..

But economists said Russian producers were not likely to make efficient use of the new breathing space granted them by the interruption of imports and the likely rise in prices to follow.

"We consumers will lose more than Russian meat producers will win," said Sergei Guriyev, vice rector of the New Economics School in Moscow. "The national interest is actually in open trade."

The situation Friday was reminiscent of a trade dispute last year between U.S. poultry producers and the Agriculture Ministry.

Citing health concerns, the ministry revoked veterinary certificates for U.S. chicken imports last year. But the action was seen as retaliation for taxes the United States had imposed on imported steel from Russia and elsewhere.

U.S. poultry producers eventually regained access to Russia, their biggest export market, but not without loss.

The meat licenses revoked Friday are expected to be re-granted as well, sooner or later. But the use of import quotas and license revocations to shield domestic meat producers is likely to become an issue in Russia's already stalled negotiations to enter the World Trade Organization, Guriyev said.