Russia, aiming to join the World Trade Organisation by the end of the year, has arrived at a compromise on meat imports, which have been a sticking point in final talks on accession, a deputy economy minister said.

Russia regulates meat imports with annual tariff quotas, under which certain volumes may be imported at a discount tariff, while volumes above the quotas may be imported at a high tariff to encourage the country’s own pork and poultry industry.

“On meat, all the main conditions with key players are agreed. I won’t disclose them, but on the whole there is agreement. I can say that they are quite comfortable for us, and on the whole suit the industry and our partners,” Deputy Economy Minister Andrei Slepnyov said.

The conditions “do imply a certain decrease in quota deliveries compared to what we had before,” he added. Slepnyov gave no more details.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk met with Russia’s top negotiator at the talks, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov.

After discussions, which in particular focused on Russia’s meat quotas, Kirk said he was confident that Russia would be able to resolve remaining issues in order to join the WTO this year.

Russia, a top consumer of U.S. poultry meat, banned imports in March 2002 citing health concerns and lifted the ban a month later after intense U.S. lobbying.

The dispute coincided with Russian anger at Washington’s tariffs on steel imports, but neither side has publicly linked the two issues.

After intense negotiations, Moscow and Washington signed a four-year deal in 2005 under which the United States was allowed to ship 811,900 tonnes of poultry meat to Russia in 2005, out of total quota of 1.09 million, at a discount tariff.

This was set as one of the conditions for Russia to join the international trade club.

The U.S. poultry imports were to rise to 931,500 tonnes in 2009 under the deal.

Since then, Russia has been gradually cutting poultry and pork import quotas, as its own production developed.

Quotas for fresh and refrigerated beef for 2012 have been set at 30,000 tonnes and for frozen beef at 530,000 tonnes, unchanged from 2011.

Quotas for pork have been cut by 30 percent to 350,000 tonnes and for poultry meat by six percent to 320,000 tonnes.

Also from 2012 Russia has canceled separate country quotas.

Russian officials have complained that the WTO was imposing discriminative conditions for Moscow’s accession, in particular, insisting that Russia applies quotas to only seven agricultural commodities, while the European Union may apply quotas for as many as 86 commodities. (Reuters)