U.S. and Russian food safety officials held talks last week to work out details on the reopening of Russian markets to imports of U.S. pork, beef and turkey products, according to a notice posted by Russia’s Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance agency (VPSS).

Russia’s food safety chief Sergei Dankvert, meanwhile, told the country’s Interfax News agency that Moscow plans to end the ban, beginning with turkey in mid-February and pork by March. Russia banned imports of U.S. pork, beef and turkey early last year based on fears of their containing the feed additive ractopamine.

U.S. exports ethanol

Bunge Ltd. is exporting U.S. corn-based ethanol to Brazil, the world’s second-largest consumer of the biofuel, according to two people with direct knowledge of the deal.

Bunge, based in White Plains, N.Y., is shipping about 12.5 million liters (3.3 million gallons) of the fuel to the Port of Itaqui in Brazil’s northeast. Brazil’s center south produces about 90 percent of the country’s sugar and ethanol. Poor logistics in Brazil, make it cheaper for blenders in the northeastern region to import ethanol from North America.

China cancels corn order

Chinese importers canceled purchases of four cargoes of U.S. corn last week, after one cargo was diverted to Vietnam the week before, U.S. government data showed, as a dispute over an unapproved genetically modified (GMO) strain remained unresolved. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed the cancellation of 220,000 metric tons of corn by China for shipment in the current marketing year.

In a weekly export sales report last week, the USDA said 63,127 metric tons of corn that was reported shipped to China in the week ending Dec. 19 was instead bound for Vietnam. Other cargoes have been reported switched to Japan, South Korea and Spain in recent weeks. China has rejected more than 600,000 metric tons of U.S. corn since November because the shipments contained MIR 162 corn, a GMO strain developed by Syngenta Ag that is not approved for import by China.

"Exporters don’t anticipate that this GMO issue is going to be resolved anytime soon. They could try to deliver on the contracts, but it could be senseless given the risk of rejection because it can be costly to sell it out at a discount," said Shawn McCambridge, analyst with Prudential Bache. "I would expect to see some more (cancellations) going forward. Unless something changes very quickly, I don’t anticipate that we’ll see any additional shipments being made this year."

Meat exports mixed

Exports of U.S. beef, pork and lamb closed 2013 on a mixed note. Beef exports eclipsed the $6 billion mark for the first time, setting a new annual value record. At the same time, pork exports declined below 2012’s record highs, while lamb sales rose in value on lower volumes, according to statistics released by the USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

Beef exports continued their surge in December, surpassing year-ago totals by nearly 13 percent in volume and 20 percent in value led by growth in sales to Japan, Mexico, Hong Kong and Central/South America. Totals for 2013 were up 3 percent in volume to 1.17 million metric tons and 12 percent in value ($6.157 billion) — breaking the 2012 value record.

Pork exports exceeded $6 billion for the third consecutive year, but declined 5 percent in volume and 4 percent in value behind 2012’s record pace, finishing at 2.14 million metric tons valued at $6.05 billion. Mexico, Central/South America and the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region posted strong results in December to bring the month’s totals up slightly from year-ago levels.

"2013 presented a new set of challenges," said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. "Last year, the closure of the Russian market to U.S. red meat products and our continued absence from the dynamic beef market in the People’s Republic of China stand out. And there were challenges in other markets, ranging from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia. The industry is focused on these challenges, and USMEF is targeting the markets where we have the best chance of succeeding and creating a positive return for American producers and exporters."