The European Commission said on April 8 that it will challenge Russia’s ban on pork imports, imposed earlier this year, at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Russia closed its market to the EU – cutting off almost a quarter of all EU exports – at the end of January, claiming that it was a response to African swine fever detected in wild boar at the Lithuanian and Polish borders with Belarus.
“Russia’s blanket ban on European pork is clearly disproportionate and goes against WTO rules. This was a very minor case of a few infected wild boars at the borders with Belarus which was immediately contained by the relevant European authorities. After weeks of talks with our Russian counterparts to try to resolve this issue, we see absolutely no progress,” EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht said.
The EU will argue that Russia has not banned imports from Belarus or, until recently, Ukraine, despite notified cases of African swine fever in these countries. Neither has it closed the market to domestic products despite “the numerous outbreaks of the disease that have occurred on its own territory,” the European Commission said.
“Therefore, by refusing imports from EU regions unaffected by the disease, Russia would seem to be applying double standards, treating EU products differently from other trading partners and from those produced domestically,” the Commission said.
By initiating the WTO dispute proceedings, the EU has now 60 days to settle the issue with Russia. If talks yield no results, the bloc can ask the WTO to set up a panel that would rule on the legality of Russia’s measures.
This is far from the first trade dispute between the EU and Russia since the latter joined WTO in August 2012. Moscow has routinely wielded trade bans, ostensibly for health reasons, as one of its foreign policy tools – from banning dairy products from Lithuania (a EU member state) to wine from Moldova (which seeks closer ties with the EU as part of the bloc’s Eastern Partnership).
Last year, the EU began another WTO dispute procedure over Russia’s “recycling fee”, charged on imports of cars, trucks, buses and other motor vehicles worth an annual 10 billion euro (Russia’s domestic automotive industry and imports from Kazakhstan and Belarus, who are part of the Russia-led customs union, are exempt from the fee).
(Russian president Vladimir Putin and European Commision president Jose Manuel Barroso. Photo: kremlin.ru)