RUSSIA TO REDUCE MEAT IMPORT QUOTA FOR DOMESTIC PRODUCERS' SAKE

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MOSCOW, November 17 (RIA Novosti) - The distribution of meat import quotas among individual countries will not benefit the Russian economy, Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev said Wednesday. "We don't think quota distribution among individual countries is beneficial to us as we will actually reduce competition by giving a market share to a supplier nation," he noted.

Although Brazil does not have an individual quota on the import of meat into Russia, the Brazilians have in the past four-to-five years increased their meat supplies to this country by a factor of 20, the minister said.

"We should be interested in giving preference to domestic producers," he emphasized.

Also, according to Gordeyev, Brazilian and U.S. exporters use special injections to increase their meat's weight by 20 percent. As a result, "we pay a 20 % higher price for what is, actually, water and air," the minister said.

Three years ago, Russia imported 65 percent of the meat consumed, Gordeyev recalled. These days, only about 40 percent of the meat is brought in from abroad while the remaining 60 percent comes from domestic suppliers, the minister said, adding that the government would continue its efforts to bring Russian producers' share further up.

The 2004 overall quota for meat imports into Russia is set at 1,050,000 tons. More than one half of this amount falls on the U.S. share-771,900 tons. Brazil is the second largest exporter.

The Agriculture Minister expressed support for the Russian Grain Union's initiative to increase Russia's quota for the export of cereals to EU countries.

"The Agriculture Ministry actively supports the Grain Union's stance. This will be a subject for serious talks with our counterparts, including within the framework of [Russia's] WTO accession," Gordeyev said.

He also said that he would welcome the idea of Russia retaining its grain quota while at the same time cutting down on meat and diary imports from the European Union.

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