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Moldovan Minister Rejects Grounds For Russian Wine Ban

Wine bottles in Chateau Vitalny in Orhei
Wine bottles in Chateau Vitalny in Orhei
CHISINAU -- Moldova has rejected Russian claims that hundreds of thousands of bottles of Moldovan wine cannot be sold because they are of poor quality or contain harmful substances, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.

Moldovan Agriculture Minister Valeriu Cosarchuc told RFE/RL that Chisinau has not received any official explanation from Russia, which has suspended customs procedures for Moldovan wine.

Some 46 trucks and several rail cars with bottled and bulk wine were impounded last week at the Solntsevo customs office near Moscow.

Cosarchuc said Russia is the only trade partner of Moldova's that is blocking wine imports on the grounds of poor quality. "Our products are of high quality. Fifty-two percent of our wine exports go to the European Union and other countries and we never had such problems," he said.

The dispute came amid Russian criticism of a decree issued late last month by acting Moldovan President Mihai Ghimpu designating June 28 as the "Day of
Soviet Occupation." He also called on Russia to withdraw its troops from Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region.

Just days later, Russia's chief health inspector, Gennady Onishchenko, was quoted by Russian media as saying that harmful substances were found in many samples of Moldovan wine during an inspection, and that hundreds of thousands of bottles should be returned to Moldova.

In an interview with the radio station Ekho Moskvy, Onishchenko said Moldovan wine is the only import inspected "bottle by bottle" because of its "poor quality." He denied any political motivation behind the stringent testing.

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov has also called on people to boycott Moldovan goods until Ghimpu apologizes for his decree and rescinds it.

Cosarchuc said he hoped the two sides would overcome these "misunderstandings" and that Moldova would be able to have "civilized" trade relations with Russia.

Wine is Moldova's main export, with 48 percent of total wine exports being sold on the Russian market. But that percentage has decreased steadily over the past four years, since Russia imposed its first long embargo in 2006.

Cosarchuc said Moldova's goal was to reduce its wine exports to Russia by 20-25 percent of production in order to "lower the risks for our companies and for the 120,000 people who work in viticulture."