Pork Kills Russia’s WTO Bid

What prevented the United States and Russia coming to an agreement to allow the latter into the WTO?

Answer: Pork.

Yes, that is right, pork. The sweetest meat, the succulent hog, the flesh that is tasty whether barbecued, baked, smoked or fried. According to an article in Kommersant, the two powers failure to come to terms with the pig sank Putin’s WTO bid. The issue was this. The United States exports beef and pork to Russia, and Russia utilizes its right under international norms to inspect the imports. Negotiators from the Bush team wanted Russia to drop the double inspection of the meat imports because they are already inspected in the United States before shipping. The double inspection uncessessarily disrupts the free flow of goods in Washington’s reasoning. Russia wants to keep its right to make sure the meat is of good quality and is frozen properly. While meat processing the United States has decreased in standards in the last decades, as Eric Schlosser showed Fast Food Nation, one can also guess that standards at Russian meat processing plants would make Upton Sinclair not only spin in his grave like a pinwheel but do a couple of somersaults and handstands.

Alas, U.S. negotiators figured this was a minor concession for WTO entry. They were wrong. Putin was offended by the stipulation and the negotiations collapsed. “I and my guest, my friend,” Putin said at a join press conference held by he and Bush, (according to Kommersant correspondent Andrey Kolesnikov, Putin’s use of the word “friend” sounded forced) “the president of the United States, George W. Bush, are often asked the question, does our present relationship help in progressing – in addressing this question in resolving various international issues? I know that he believes so, that this informal personal relationship is helping us in our work. I have to tell you that at the same time, it does not hamper us in standing up for our national interests in this or that area. The WTO accession talks are very concrete, calculable in their nature, which can be expressed in terms of millions of dollars or rubles. This is a complicated process that has lasted for quite a while, for quite a few years. This difficulty is not a surprise to us. We will continue to work further, pursuing our interest, the interest of our developing economy.”

Putin’s unwillingness to budge sank the only real goal he had for the G8: getting into the WTO. The failed entry also put Russia in a weaker position to push an energy policy on its own terms. By all analysts’ accounts it will also further strain US-Russian relations. In fact, many in and outside Russia think that the G8 was a setback for Russia in general.

One thing is absolutely clear. Putin means business when it comes to his pork.