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23rd Jan 2022

Russia halts EU sweetheart food deals

  • Russia last year banned EU pig meat exports citing swine fever concerns. (Photo: Rae Allen)

Russia has stopped procedures to let favoured EU countries resume pig meat exports after a European outcry.

Sergei Dankvert, the head of its food safety body, Rosselkhoznadzor, told the Interfax news agency on Thursday (29 January): “We began planning inspections, but are now pausing to consider whether to do that or not”.

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  • 'All member states agreed we have to show solidarity', EU commissioner Hogan (l) has said. (Photo: European Commission)

"We were trying to find a way out of the situation and to create the opportunity for a return of European pork to the Russian market. But if our European colleagues find that path to be unacceptable, we will not take the initiative”.

He said inspections were to take place in Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and the Netherlands.

But he said Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland are ineligible due to concerns on African swine fever.

Russia last year banned EU pig meat exports due to a swine fever alert.

It later banned almost all food exports in retaliation against EU sanctions over its war on Ukraine, costing European exporters hundreds of millions of euros.

The Rosselkhoznadzor inspections in select EU states were designed to let them resume pig meat exports as quickly as possible.

But other EU countries - led by Poland - complained that Russia is using food markets to reward EU doves and to punish hawks in an attempt to sow division. The European Commission, which initially approved Russia’s pick-and-choose approach, later disowned the deal.

“All member states agreed we have to show solidarity on this issue”, the EU’s agriculture commissioner, Phil Hogan, told press on Monday.

Sanctions ‘regrettable’

The pig meat news came shortly before EU foreign ministers in Brussels agreed to extend Russia sanctions for six months and to blacklist more names.

"By acting in such a narrow-minded way, the EU in essence is subjecting to additional tests our partnership - the partnership between Russia and the European Union, which is regrettable”, Russia’s ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, told the Tass news agency.

He said Ukraine, not Russia, is responsible for the “bloodbath” in east Ukraine.

He accused the EU of hiding its fear of Ukraine’s “economic collapse”, which threatens the future of the “notorious association agreement” - an EU-Ukraine political and free trade treaty.

Speaking earlier on Thursday in the European Parliament, Chizhov also accused Nato of false claims that Russian soldiers are fighting in Ukraine.

“Let me assure you that the Russian army is not an army of the future which can make its soldiers invisible”, he said.

World Cup budget reduced

Low oil prices, coupled with EU economic sanctions, have caused the rouble to crash in value and bond yields to soar.

Russia's sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, said on Thursday it will cut its $9.5 billion budget for the 2018 World Cup in Russia by 10 percent as part of anti-crisis measures.

But EU foreign ministers also agreed to explore further economic sanctions if Russia attacks the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

Meanwhile, an EU options paper from last September, which EU diplomats say is still “relevant”, threatened to block the World Cup if need be.

“Thought could be given to taking co-ordinated action … to recommend suspension of Russian participation in high profile international cultural, economic, or sports events (Formula 1 races, Uefa football competitions, 2018 World Cup etc.)”, the EU paper, seen by EUobserver, says.

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