EU criticizes Russia over meat ban

Posted in Europe | 04-Jun-04 | Author: Paul Meller| Source: International Herald Tribune

BRUSSELS Casting doubts over a recent warming in trade relations, the European Commission accused Russia on Thursday of breaking a verbal agreement when it imposed a ban on imports of European Union meat and dairy products this week.

No retaliatory action is planned, but the commission issued a veiled threat that it might withdraw support for Russia's entry to the World Trade Organization if it did not lift the import ban.

"This kind of behavior is not expected from a WTO member," said Reijo Kemppinen, a spokesman for Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission.

The commission agreed to support Russia's WTO entry last month during meetings that also resulted in the widest ranging agreement to date to free up trade between the two.

Russia imposed the ban because the European Union has failed to abide by new Russian import rules that require a single, standardized EU veterinary certificate. Currently each of the 25 EU countries has its own export certificate.

"We can't accept the new certificates," Kemppinen said. "All existing members of the WTO accept our certificates as they are."

Prodi reached Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov of Russia late Thursday in a failed attempt to end the row.

The 25 countries of the Union annually export meat and dairy produce to Russia worth around E1.3 billion, or $1.6 billion. The quality of these exports has not been questioned by the Russians, the commission said.

The bureaucratic issue has been the subject of long discussions between the two sides in recent months, and as far as the European Union is concerned, Russia agreed not to ban imports while efforts continued to resolve it.

However, 11 EU countries that have already tried to export meat products to Russia since Tuesday, including France, Germany and Poland, have had their requests for import papers turned down by the Russian authorities, the commission said.

A commission official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the issue of the certificates was discussed at the time and Russian officials had agreed orally that they would not impose the trade blockade Tuesday as they had threatened.

Kemppinen said Prodi and Fradkov had a "long and friendly discussion, but as far as the issue is concerned it's back to the drawing board."

Russian officials were not immediately available to comment on the reasons for imposing such a harsh measure. Commission officials seemed perplexed by the dispute.

Asked if Russia might be using this issue to gain negotiating strength on a separate bilateral issue, Kemppinen said that "if there are other reasons attached, we hope they will tell us."