MOSCOWRussia’s agriculture minister said on Wednesday the country could cut poultry and pork import quotas, a move that could affect U.S. producers.

The move comes at a time of increased international tensions over Russia’s recent war with ex-Soviet republic Georgia.

"It is time to change the quota regime and reduce imports, which have unfortunately built up in recent years," Alexei Gordeyev told reporters, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Earlier this week, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin backed proposals to freeze some of the agreements particularly in the field of agriculture relating to its efforts to join the 153-member World Trade Organization (WTO). Officials claim Moscow agreed to certain conditions with member countries in return for their help in fast-tracking Russia's entry.

Last month, Russian and U.S. lobbyists agreed in principle to cutting poultry imports to Russia from 2009.

U.S. producers supply nearly 75 percent of the total poultry import quota set by Russia, which reportedly stands at 1.2 million tons. Through the end of June, American producers had shipped $395.7 million worth of broilers to Russia, up 42 percent from the previous year, while volume grew 20 percent.

An analyst said Russia's timing was no coincidence.

"It has been on the agenda for some time," said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at UralSib bank in Moscow. "But the fact that it has been mentioned now is almost certainly linked with the rhetoric that we've had from Georgia, and from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. ... It has just been accelerated as a result of current events."

The news reportedly sent stocks of U.S. pork and poultry producers tumbling.

Shares of the nation's largest chicken producer, Pilgrim's Pride Corp., fell $1.21, or 8.2 percent, to $13.49 in midday trading, while shares of Smithfield Foods Inc., the nation's largest hog producer and pork processor, fell 45 cents, or 2 percent, to $21.46.

Foreign exports had been the brightest spot for many producers as rising feed and fuel costs have hurt them in the domestic market. For example, Smithfield Foods said this week its first-quarter results were bolstered by a doubling of export volume though it posted a loss on soaring commodity costs.


Source: Associated Press