US pork producers have applauded an agreement that will re-open the Russian market to exporters.

By the end of last year, Russia had delisted almost all US pork facilities, prohibiting them from shipping pork to the country as a result of H1N1 flu concerns.

However, the National Pork Producers Council (NPCC) said on Friday (5 March) that it was “very pleased” that Russia is now re-opening its market to US pork.

“It’s a very important destination for our products,” said NPPC president Don Butler. “NPPC also is very appreciative of the efforts of the US Department of Agriculture and the US Trade Representative in getting this deal done.”

In 2008, the US shipped US$476m of pork to Russia, making that country the number five export market for US processors.

Last year, exports fell to $289m because of a ban on US pork over concerns about the H1N1 flu, the global economic downturn and Russia delisting a number of US pork facilities.

Exports to Russia, which were just $7.6m in 2003, had soared since the US and Russia signed a meat agreement in 2004, the NPPC said.

Since the flu scare, the US agreed to develop an Export Verification (EV) programme to ensure that US pork exports meet Russian microbiological and tetracycline-group antibiotic residue requirements.

US plants that want to export to Russia must now apply for approval with the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

“Our pork meets US and international standards, so we did not see the need for the EV programme,” said Butler. “But the Russians wanted the programme, and we wanted to get back in the market. “And while the re-opening of the Russian market is great news for our producers, we now need to get China to re-open its market to US pork.”

China closed its market to US pork in late April after the initial reports on the H1N1 flu outbreak. In December, China announced it would re-open its market but has yet to begin taking US pork. It recently reached agreement with Canada to take that country’s pork.

“We’re losing pork sales to Canada and the European Union,” said Butler. “We need to get back into the Chinese market."