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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canada has come up with a "fool-proof" certificate to prevent Russian black marketeers from passing off other foreign pork as Canadian, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said on Tuesday.
Canada's relatively simple export certificate was being "pirated" last year, which led to a two-month ban on Canadian pork imports, Ritz told reporters during a conference call from a trade mission in Moscow.
"They do have some situations over here where there is a black market, and our certificates were being photocopied and used on other products," Ritz said.
"We worked with them over the winter to come up with a certificate that was impenetrable."
Russia was Canada's third-largest pork export market in 1997 after the United States and Japan, accounting for 89,000 tonnes worth C$145 million ($142 million).
The problem came to light when Russian import officials noticed an influx of so-called Canadian pork exports into eastern border points, and checked certificates with Canadian officials, said Nathan Hunt, a pork importer with Ronald A. Chisholm Ltd in Moscow.
"It was fairly extensive," Hunt said in an interview.
Ritz said Canadian exporters signed C$10 million in new pork and beef business to Russia during the trade mission.
Canadian farm exports to Russia grew by 160 percent between 2005 and 2007 to C$260 million, including a major shipment of more than 5,000 live cattle to rebuild the Russian breeding herd, Ritz said.
"The sky's the limit" for Canadian live cattle exports to Russia, Ritz said. "It's as many as we can spare. That's going to be my concern, is that we will run out" of livestock.
Purebred cattle sales to Russia gave a huge boost to Canada's battered cattle industry, which had been hurt by trade restrictions since bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, was first found in Canada in 2003.
Canada has since found another 12 cases of mad cow disease, including one this week.
Still, Ritz said that was well within limits set by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), which has said Canada has "controlled risk" for the disease.
Ritz said he would urge Japanese officials in Tokyo this week to ease import restrictions on Canadian beef.
Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Bernadette Baum