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Russia Defends Trade Ban on US Chickens - 2002-03-11

Russian and American officials met Monday in Moscow to discuss a Russian ban on imports of American chicken that went into effect Sunday. Russian officials say they imposed the ban for health reasons.

After talks with U.S. officials, Russian agricultural officials stuck by their claim that the U.S. chicken is unsafe to eat. In fact, Russia's first deputy minister of agriculture, Sergei Dankvert, told reporters he had just learned of more salmonella poisoning on chicken imported from the United States. Mr. Dankvert said it was senseless to discuss any other issues until the Americans explained why there is salmonella in the chicken.

Moscow banned all imports of U.S. chicken on Sunday, saying that American poultry did not meet Russian sanitary standards. The Russian agriculture ministry says it is also concerned about the use of antibiotics and additives in U.S. poultry.

But to American poultry producers U.S. poultry is completely safe and of very high quality. They say Russia is simply penalizing the United States for last week imposing tariffs on steel imports. The tariffs are as high as 30 percent and could cost Russian steel producers hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Many observers fear that the chicken and steel dispute could lead to a trade war between the two countries.

Russia is a very important export market for American poultry producers. According to a United States trade official, half of all U.S. poultry exports go to Russia.

Officials from the U.S. agriculture department, the trade representative's office, and the food and drug administration are taking part in the talks, which are expected to continue on Tuesday.