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Russia turns up the heat on the EU over pork conflict

Gema Boiza / Ricardo Migueláñez

Vladimir Putin's government has made relations with the European Union tenser with another turn of the screw. From a political standpoint, Russia is forging ahead with its plan to annex Crimea, until now part of Ukraine, and ignoring criticism from the rest of the EU; from a commercial standpoint, Russia is holding its ground and has decided not to lift the ban on pork imports from the EU or from the Customs Union it forms with Belarus and Kazakhstan.These restrictions became effective in 2013, based on the argument that the European Commission was not monitoring health controls on foods produced and exported among the 28 member states.

Russia maintains its stance, judging by conclusions from the most recent meeting held between Sergey Dankvert, Head of Rosselkhoznadzor, Russia’s veterinary and phytosanitary surveillance service, and Isabel García Tejerina, General Secretary of the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and the Environment.

At this meeting, held last week in Madrid, the delegation from Russia insisted that the European Commission continues to fail in monitoring the health of food industry products, especially since it did not provide sufficient information about, or successfully thwart, the outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) detected in boars from Lithuania and Poland.

Along these lines, Dankvert implied that Russia felt Spain had done what it needed to do and would be allowed to resume exports. In fact, on March 18th, Russia decided to open its market to nine Spanish dairy companies, the names of which have not yet been released. According to Dankvert, this decision is due to the roll out of agri-food control programscurrently in place in Spain's dairy and meat industries.

Tensions with the EU aside, Russia is planning to lift the current ban on imports of pork from Spain.

According to Putin's government, if not for the "unfavourable" EU-wide veto recently imposed on pork exports due to the ASF outbreak, Spain would have surpassed the previous veto, imposed in early 2013. Dankvert says that Russia in considering a "regionalization" study of the EU by creating two lists of countries: those with lower risk of ASF, which would include Spain, and other, higher-risk countries such as those on the border with Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, where there is greater risk of outbreak.

Dankvert has again requested changes in export health certificates between the EU and Russia, since they state that products supplied from the EU must be made in a region free of ASF for the past three years.

That clause refers to the EU as a whole and not specific countries. As a result, the Russian government believes that these certificates jeopardize pig farmers, which have become "hostages to this problem". Spain, of course, is one of them.

Nevertheless, Russia continues to play hardball, and has threatened to bring the case before the WTO, which would notably delay a resolution to the conflict.

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28/06/2017