THERE has been a boost for the British livestock sector following Russia’s announcement that it is lifting its ban on beef and lamb imports.

The change ends a 16-year restriction on exports of British beef and lamb to Russia following the 1996 BSE outbreak in the UK.

The breakthrough has come after sustained lobbying by Eblex and Defra officials after the worldwide ban on beef was lifted in 2006.

It is estimated that this change could be worth around £80-£115million to the British livestock industry over the next three years.

Beef exports are due to start from a small number of plants next month, while lamb exports are expected to start in April.

The move has been welcomed by the NFU, with livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe saying: “This is great news and a massive boost for our industry, again demonstrating that British produce is in demand on both home and export markets.

“Russia is one of the largest global importers of beef and, although there will still be a lot of work to do, the potential demand for our beef is huge.

“The work of our levy bodies and government departments in continuing to open up these export markets is vital and will go a long way towards ensuring a competitive and sustainable beef and lamb industry.”

The technical decision to lift the ban was made during the summer and this announcement is confirmation.

In 2011, fresh and frozen beef and veal exports from the UK were worth £438.1million, while fresh and frozen sheep meat exports were worth £381.6million.

Significantly, Russia is one of the largest importers of beef with imports of more than 600,000 tonnes.

Eblex has been working with Defra to address Russia’s long-standing ban on British beef for some time, and earlier this year hosted a delegation of eight Russian vets.

They spent a week with Defra’s export team, visiting farms and processing facilities to work towards developing potential market access for the UK.

Peter Hardwick, Eblex head of trade development, said: “We have been working closely with Defra to emphasise the importance of this market and, through the Export Certification Partnership with Defra, placed Russia as a top priority in terms of market access and the lifting of import restrictions.

“Russia remains one of the largest global importers of beef and the potential for beef exports there is enormous.

“We welcome the official political announcement but are not surprised as the technical decision to lift the ban had already been made.

“We’ve been helping to work towards this for some time and were aware of Defra chief vet Nigel Gibbens’ visit to Moscow.

“As we’ve said before, improving market access for beef and lamb in non-EU countries will help the UK compete on the global stage and maximise returns.”