• Poland wants the EU to haul Russia before the World Trade Organisation over its tit-for-tat food ban (Photo: Billy Wilson)

Poland demands WTO challenge over Russia food ban

20.08.14 @ 07:45

  1. By Benjamin Fox
  2. Benjamin email

BRUSSELS - Poland has made a formal request that the EU take Russia before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to overturn its ban on EU food and vegetables.

Reuters reported on Tuesday (19 August) that Poland’s economy ministry had sent a written request for a legal challenge to EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht.

The move is expected to be confirmed by agriculture minister Marek Sawicki and economy minister Janusz Piechociński at a press conference on Wednesday (20 August).

Moscow slapped the one year ban on many food and agriculture imports from the EU, along with the US, Canada, Australia and Norway earlier this month in retaliation against EU sanctions on Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis.

Poland is likely to be one of the countries hit hardest by the ban. Last year, it exported more than €1 billion of food to Russia, which is its fourth largest market after Germany, the UK and France, with its apple growers, who export around half of their crop to Russia, the main victims.

Meanwhile, a number of governments are already working out how much compensation they will seek to claim for their farmers from a €420 million emergency fund which the European Commission has at its disposal.

Although the EU may be reluctant to raise the stakes involved in the Ukraine conflict further by involving the WTO, it would not be the first time it has filed disputes against Russia to the Swiss-based trade body.

Despite having only joined the WTO in August 2012 Russia has already been subject to two WTO complaints from the EU. In April, the EU opened a dispute against Russia in response to its ban on EU pork products, while both the EU and Japan filed complaints against a recycling tax imposed on foreign cars last year.

Russia was already seen by the trade body as one of the main culprits in putting up tariff barriers and other trade restrictions against other countries, prior to the Ukraine conflict.

For its part, Moscow has filed its own WTO suits against the EU this year in protest at levies slapped on Russian steel products and ammonium nitrate, which is mainly used in fertilisers, as well as provisions in new EU energy laws which prevent a single company from both owning and operating a gas pipeline.

The WTO cannot force a country to open up its market but can impose fines for breaches of trade rules.