Russia opens market to Argentine beef


ARGENTINE beef has been given free and unrestricted access to the Russian market as a major challenger to Irish imports. Russia's chief veterinary officer, Mr Vyacheslav Avilov, told The Irish Times that reports of beef imports from Argentina being limited to 50,000 tonnes this year were not correct.

"They have been given permission to sell their beef without restriction over the entire territory of the Russian Federation. We have also agreed to let them sell pork, lamb and other food products," Mr Avilov said.

Until now Argentina has not been a competitor with Irish beef on the Russian market because of the existence of foot and mouth disease in Argentina.

"Foot and mouth disease was the main obstacle to free trade but there have been no cases there for three years now," Mr Avilov, who has returned from a visit to Argentina, said.

"Our visit was to study their progress in eliminating disease, study their technology and prophylactic work, and as a result we found it possible to move forward and give them free access to our market for boneless beef and other products. In theory they can export as much as they can to our country."

In the course of the visit Russia and Argentina signed an agreement on scientific co operation, and work has begun on an intergovernmental agreement on veterinary co operation. This would bring Argentina into closer contact with the Russian agriculture ministry and its veterinary department.

Ireland is expected to hold a slight advantage in price over the Argentinian product, but it is understood that in certain cuts Argentine beef will be extremely competitive.

Mr Avilov's department has banned imports of beef from eight Irish counties, and the situation is to be reviewed in May. "There appears to be an improvement in the Irish situation although there were 11 cases of BSE in January, eight in February and four in March so far. We have reason to believe that the final March figure will be higher as some suspected eases were reported to us last Monday.

"We are pleased at the reported improvement and hope it will improve further. We consider the measures we took [banning imports from certain counties] were necessary under the circumstances no matter how unpopular they were in Ireland," he said.

Yesterday Ukraine banned all beef imports from Germany because of the reporting of a single BSE ease in that country. Until the arrival of Argentine beef, Germany was the main competitor to Irish beef on the Russian market.