UK chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens met with Yevgeny Nepoklonov, deputy head of Russian veterinary watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor, on August 21 to discuss issues that have limited UK exports to Russia, despite the country officially lifting its ban on UK lamb and beef last November.
According to Rosselkhoznadzor, the discussions focused on the UK system of veterinary inspection for meat products, the authorisation of meat companies to export products to Russia and the export of offal, which is not allowed under the current export agreement. Restrictions on live cattle exports, which Russia imposed on a number of European countries following outbreaks of Schmallenberg virus, were also discussed.
A spokesperson for the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) stressed that negotiations with Russia were ongoing, with no final decisions yet made. “The UK Chief Veterinary Office has recently had constructive discussions with his Russian counterpart on several technical issues, including the export of beef offal, and we are hopeful that trade in these commodities will commence soon,” he said.
Early indications from the Russian side are positive, with Rosselkhoznadzor suggesting the restrictions could be lifted within weeks if the negotiations are successful. “I can already confirm that Rosselkhoznadzor is ready to lift restrictions and allow UK companies to supply beef products to the Russian market,” said Rosselkhoznadzor press secretary Alexei Alekseyenko.
He added that while UK companies currently approved to export beef and lamb to Russia were unlikely to supply large shipments of these products, Rosselkhoznadzor was willing to expand the list of authorised UK suppliers if standards were met.
“UK companies have prospects of supplying beef and lamb to Russia of the total worth of RUB5.6bn (£108.8m), according to their own estimations, so the opening of our market to their products should certainly be of interest for them,” he said.
On cattle imports, Rosselkhoznadzor confirmed it was considering cancelling restrictions following an improvement of Schmallenberg controls in Europe in recent months, but added that Russian vets had to assess all possible risks before any final decision was made.
Russia has been highlighted as a “top priority” market by UK red meat levy body Eblex, which called on Defra to send Gibbens to meet Russian officials to resolve market access issues back in June. At the time, Eblex export manager Jean-Pierre Garnier said that Russia’s restrictions on UK offal exports were particularly concerning because there was good demand for ox livers, hearts and tongues in Russia, which are key export products for the UK.
He pointed out that the Russian market had strong potential because the country is facing a deficit in beef and sheep meat, and Russian domestic meat prices are some of the highest in the world due to the government’s need to keep the price of agricultural commodities high to attract investment and rebuild its production capacity.