Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev Come to Poultry Trade Compromise

Russia has agreed to end its ban on U.S. poultry imports, presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev announced in a joint press conference yesterday.  The announcement resolves a five-month trade dispute over poultry that began when Russia announced it would no longer accept poultry processed with chlorine, a chemical widely used in the U.S. as a food safety intervention.

medvedev&obama.jpgBoth sides signed a letter agreeing to resume exports of U.S. poultry not treated with chlorine, listing three acceptable, alternative pathogen reduction treatments: cetylpyridinium chloride, hydrogen peroxide and peroxyacetic acid, according to the American Meat Institute.

Russia, the largest importer of U.S. poultry before the chlorine ban, purchased over $760 million worth of American chicken products in 2009. Russia’s restrictions met harsh criticism from domestic industry, members of Congress, and the Administration. Obama and Medvedev discussed the dispute, amidst a slew of national security and economic issues, ahead of the G-20 summit in Canada set to begin Saturday.

In a press conference following a meeting between the two leaders, President Obama used the poultry resolution as an example of Russia’s readiness to integrate into the World Trade Organization.  

“To deepen Russia’s integration into the global economy, I reaffirmed our strong commitment to Russia’s ascension to the World Trade Organization,” said President Obama. “Today we’ve reached an agreement that will allow the United States to begin exporting our poultry products to Russia once again.  And I want to thank President Medvedev and his team for resolving this issue, which is of such importance to American business, and which sends an important signal about Russia’s seriousness about achieving membership in the WTO.”

“It’s odd, when you’re sitting in historic meetings with your Russian counterpart, to spend time talking about chicken,” Obama said. “But our ability to get resolved a trade dispute around poultry–that is a multibillion-dollar export for the United States–was an indication of the seriousness with which President Medvedev and his team take all of these trade and commercial issues.”

Agreement widely praised in Washington

raw-chicken-leg-featured.jpgIn addition to praise from the poultry industry, lawmakers and Administration officials hailed the resolution.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln, (D-AR), Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss, (R-GA), and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), applauded the announcement. On Monday they, and 22 other Senators, sent a letter to President Obama urging him to make the poultry dispute a priority in his meeting with Medvedev.

“I want to thank President Obama for addressing the concerns I raised to him in my letter and I am very pleased that the issues that have kept U.S. poultry exports out of the Russian market since the first of the year were resolved,” said Lincoln in a statement yesterday.
Chambliss called the agreement “a welcome development.”

“It is my hope future disruptions can be avoided thereby removing unnecessary irritants to U.S.-Russia relations,” added Chambliss. “In the future, Congress will be closely monitoring this agreement to ensure both sides adhere to science-based standards.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also lauded the development.  “This is an important achievement for U.S. agriculture,” said Vilsack. “Russia has long been the largest export market for U.S. poultry and regaining access to that market has been a top priority for the Obama Administration. I am pleased our countries have come to an agreement that will reopen this valuable market to U.S. producers.”

The poultry industry accounts for more than 500,000 jobs nationwide.

A diplomatic burger

Just before the announcement yesterday, Obama treated Medvedev to Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington, Virginia.

Obama had a cheddar cheeseburger, with onions, lettuce, tomato, and bread-and-butter pickles, and a bottled iced tea. Medvedev enjoyed a Coke, a cheddar cheeseburger with onions, jalepenos, and mushrooms, and the two leaders shared an order of french fries–a meal the Russian president admitted was “probably not quite healthy,” but “very tasty.”

Pictured: Presidents Obama and Medvedev during a joint conference in the East Room of the White House yesterday, photo screenshot of White House live.