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EU/Russia: Brussels Condemns Russian Meat-Import Ban

Brussels, 3 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission today said it is "surprised and disappointed" at Russia's decision to suspend to imports of meat-based EU food products.

As of 1 June, Russia has refused to recognize national EU certificates accompanying products that contain meat, and instead demands the European Commission adopt a single certificate for all EU exports.

Chief commission spokesman Reijo Kemppinen said today the commission is unable to do this at present, adding due to legal difficulties "this will not happen." Currently, certification of food exports remains within the competence of the member states.
Kemppinen said the EU had long conducted a dialogue with Russia on the issue and had expected the talks to continue. He said the Russian ban was completely unjustified.

Kemppinen said the EU had long conducted a dialogue with Russia on the issue and had expected the talks to continue. He said the Russian ban was completely unjustified. "Any disruption of trade is unnecessary and unjustified," he said. "These measures do not correspond to any scientific assessment of the risk nor are they back up by appropriate risk management measures. EU exports are safe and they are healthy. We insist that in line with recent agreements between Russia and the EU these restrictions are given up and overcome immediately."

Kemppinen said the president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, will call Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov today. He added that External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten and the EU's health and consumer affairs commissioner have also written to their Russian counterparts.

Kemppinen and other EU officials said the Russian move had taken the bloc "completely by surprise." They said the commission had had no warning that Russia would unilaterally call off ongoing talks of long standing on how the EU could address Russian concerns. that were launched with Moscow months ago.

Kemppinen today said the real problem remains "somewhat difficult to see," for the EU, again ruling out health or safety reasons. "We don't see anywhere any scientific or substantial basis for these measures, which then implies that the reasons have to be elsewhere, may be they are political," he said. "If they are political, if there are other reasons attached to that, we would certainly hope [Russia] to tell us so."

Kemppinen noted "a certain lack of transparency" as regards the precise extent of the Russian import ban or at what level the decision was taken at. Another EU official said the bloc had learned of the move from a Russian Agriculture Ministry press statement.

Kemppinen refused to say if the EU would impose countermeasures on Russia, saying that he is "confident" that Moscow will reconsider. However, he warned that the potential annual impact of the Russian ban on EU trade would amount to 1.3 billion euros.

Just two weeks ago, the EU approved Russia's accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Today, Kemppinen put off talk of whether the Russian decision could make the bloc change its mind. "The only thing at this stage that we would say on this issue is that this kind of behavior is not the behavior one would expect from a potential WTO member state," he said.

He did note, though, that the European Commission regards the Russian move as an "extraordinarily unfriendly action," adding that all 148 current WTO members are fully satisfied with the EU's national certification system

Kemppinen said the ban currently appears to affect up to 12 EU countries -- the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Estonia, France, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Austria, and "possibly Finland." He said the ban appears to have nothing to do with enlargement, nor does it single out new member states.

The ban currently affects EU beef and pork shipments, but may extend to dairy products as well.