A year ago David Cameron’s visit to Moscow prompted sensational headlines amid stories of the KGB’s apparent attempt to recruit him as a young man.
The trip did, however, put the issues of Russia’s long-standing ban on British beef back on the agenda, which is something EBLEX and Defra have been working hard to address for some time.
A year on and Russia has again been in the headlines after gaining accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), heralded in several quarters as a potential major boost to European business in terms of generating greater access to the Russian market. Interestingly, it also coincided with a visit to Bryansk by Harriett Baldwin MP (Con, West Worcestershire) and Neil Parish MP (Con, Tiverton & Honiton), chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Beef & Lamb, when the current ban was apparently discussed.
On the face of it, Russia’s accession to the WTO sounds like a positive move from which our industry can reap great rewards. However, a more balanced perspective is needed. While Russia remains one of the largest global importers of beef and the potential for beef exports there remains enormous, there is still a huge amount of work to be done to help gain market access. In terms of veterinary access issues, Russia’s WTO accession alone is unlikely to have an impact, although it may lead to lower tariffs at some point.
The opening of the Russian market continues to be part of EBLEX’s ongoing export strategy to secure new market access to optimise returns for producers and processors in England, particularly for those cuts for which there is low or no demand domestically.
Through the Export Certification Partnership, Russia is a top priority in terms of market access and the lifting of import restrictions. Estimates have suggested that, should trade restrictions be lifted, it could be worth £115m to the UK beef industry alone in the first three years.
However, the important point to remember is that gaining market access is a long game and, while we are making progress, there is still some way to go to achieve our ultimate goal. It will take time but ultimately, improved market access for beef and lamb in non-EU countries will help improve the UK’s ability to compete in the global arena and optimise returns for producers.