Russia has agreed to ease restrictions on imports of US poultry, pork and beef, according to US Trade Representative Robert B Zoellick.

"This agreement ensures American poultry, pork and beef exports to Russia at historic levels and adds room to grow," said Zoellick.

The new agreement establishes tariff-rate quota mechanisms whereby the US can export a specified amount of a given commodity at a relatively low tariff, while any quantity exported above this allocation would be subject to a higher tariff, Zoellick said.

Russia is the largest export market for US poultry, the 5th largest export market for US pork and the 7th largest for beef.

US poultry exports reached around US$700m in 2001, but totalled less than $400m in 2002 because of Russian restrictions.

Last year, Russian inspectors found several US poultry plants to be in violation of their food safety standards and refused to import products from them.

"We are very pleased that the access issue for US meat and poultry into the Russian market has been resolved…This agreement will bring greater certainty to our poultry trade in this very important market," said US Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.

"Concerning the sanitary and phytosanitary issues, a USDA team is now in Moscow for two days of technical discussions with Russian officials. Satisfactory resolution of an issue involving footwear would enable final implementation of the new veterinary certificate agreed upon earlier in the year," she added.