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Russia Suspends Dairy Imports From Lithuania

Lithuanian-made dairy products are on sale at a food store in Kaliningrad.
MOSCOW -- Russia has suspended imports of dairy products from Lithuania, which currently holds the rotating EU Presidency.

Russia's consumer protection agency, Rospotrebnadzor, cited quality concerns for the suspension.

Rospotrebnadzor chief Gennady Onishchenko told a news conference October 7 that the agency found traces of yeast and fungus that exceeded the established limit. He also said inspectors found coliform bacteria, which are microorganisms found in the intestinal tracts of animals, including humans.

The move was widely seen, however, as an attempt to put pressure on Lithuania as it prepares to host an EU summit next month at which several former Soviet republics are expected to be offered closer economic ties with the European Union.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite threatened to refer "the trade obstacles that Russian institutions are raising" to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Frederic Vincent, spokesman for EU Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner Tonio Borg, told a news conference in Brussels that Russia has yet to explain what is wrong with Lithuanian dairy products.

"The European Commission has not been formally informed by the Russian Federation on the nature of the safety concerns they have," he said. "The one thing we have to say is that the commission has full confidence in the safety of Lithuania's dairy products."

Vincent said that in line with its World Trade Organization commitments, Russia must ensure that any action "be justified by a demonstration of the risk," and called on Russia not to overreact.

"We have seen in the past some bans from Russia on some EU products," he said. "We have to say again that the EU has the most stringent system in the world when it comes to food safety, and sometimes the way the Russian Federation sees the safety of our products can be a bit different."

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Ahead of next month's Eastern Partnership summit, Russia has increased trade pressure on Ukraine and Moldova, both of which hope to be offered association and free-trade agreements with the European Union.

Russia imposed a ban on Moldovan wines last month, citing the presence of "impurities," after slapping a similar moratorium on Ukrainian chocolate in August.

Last month, Russia imposed enhanced customs checks on Lithuanian products, prompting Vilnius to warn Moscow that it risked souring ties with the 28-nation bloc.

With reporting by Reuters and ITAR-TASS
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