Russia was one of the hottest markets for U.S. beef during the first half of 2012, a trend upon which the beef checkoff has capitalized through trainings and promotions. Coming off a record performance in 2011, beef and beef variety meat exports to Russia were up 17 percent in volume (84.2 million pounds) and 57 percent in value ($162.2 million) year-on-year through the first half of 2012.

Looking ahead, prospects for continued export growth are bolstered by Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Though Russia's invitation to join the WTO became official in December 2011, the Russian Parliament just recently (in late July) passed legislation to complete its accession to the WTO.

"The duty on frozen beef muscle cuts will remain unchanged at 15 percent," explains Thad Lively, senior vice president for trade access for the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), contractor to the beef checkoff. "However, the U.S. beef industry is already benefiting from the WTO accession because of Russia's commitment to increase the quota on U.S. beef imports. That quota was only 47 million pounds in 2010 and 92 million pounds last year, but for 2012 it has been increased to 132 million pounds."

To say that the Beef Checkoff Program is promoting U.S. beef far and wide in Russia would be an understatement. Two promotional events this summer were separated by nearly 7,000 miles and eight time zones.

In cooperation with the Association of Restaurateurs and Hoteliers of Kaliningrad, Russia, the national checkoff and the Texas Beef Council recently helped fund a first-of-its-kind U.S. beef master class in this uniquely positioned and strategically important region. With about 500,000 residents in its main metropolitan area, Kaliningrad has a growing restaurant and hotel sector with a wide variety of culinary styles and menu concepts. The objective of the master class was to demonstrate the many ways that U.S. beef can add quality and versatility to any menu.

"We are very excited to see so much enthusiasm for U.S. beef in new retail and foodservice outlets," says Kevin Kester, a cattleman from Parkfield, California and chair of the checkoff's Joint International Markets Committee. "It only opens the door for more U.S. product, which beef producers should be excited about as well."

The checkoff also joined forces with a number of U.S. agricultural segments and the Agricultural Trade Office in the far eastern port city of Vladivostok for a "Taste of America" event to demonstrate the quality and diversity of U.S. farm products. The event attracted more than 60 representatives of eastern Russia's restaurants, cafes, hotels and taverns, as well as local food importers. Chef Erwin Peters of the El Gaucho Paveletskaya steakhouse in Moscow shared his positive experiences with U.S. beef in his restaurant and demonstrated creative cooking methods for U.S. beef chuck roll, flank steak, top blade and short ribs.

Other checkoff-funded promotional events in Russia this summer included Independence Day celebrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg, where guests comprised leading restaurateurs and other food industry professionals from both cities' growing hospitality sectors. Beef master classes also were sponsored in Velikiy Novgorod, a historic city located between Moscow and St Petersburg that has a rapidly growing tourist sector. The checkoff also has been actively promoting U.S. beef in Sochi - the host city for the 2014 Winter Olympics - and other popular tourist destinations on Russia' Black Sea coast.

For more information about your beef checkoff investment in export markets, visit MyBeefCheckoff.com.