Wednesday

22nd May 2019

Russia to reward EU sanctions critics with food exports

  • Dankvert claimed Russia's ban on pork exports has created stockpiles in EU warehouses (Photo: Carl Jones)

Russia says firms from Cyprus, Greece, and Hungary - the leading critics of EU sanctions - will be first in line to restart food exports if relations improve.

Sergei Dankvert, the head of Russia’s food safety authority, Rosselkhoznadzor, made the announcement at a press briefing in Moscow on Tuesday (19 May).

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He said about 20 companies from the three states, 15 of them from Hungary, already qualify following technical inspections.

He noted Russia would like to go further, but complained the issue is clouded by politics.

“There’s a lot of talk about the fate of Polish apples in the domestic market. Frankly, Russia might not be against their export. The issue should be decided on an individual basis by agreement between the two countries. But at the slightest attempt to make contact with Poland our country is accused of trying to divide European states,” he said, Russian media report.

Moscow imposed the ban on most EU food exports last August in retaliation against EU economic measures on its banks, arms firms, and energy companies.

The Russian sanctions expire on 7 August.

The EU measures end in July unless they are renewed by consensus. But EU leaders, at a summit in March, announced a “political agreement” to extend them until the end of the year.

Dankvert said his “minimal estimate” is that Russian counter-sanctions have cost EU exporters “approximately $3.5 billion” in “direct losses”.

He noted Russia has, in the meantime, increased imports of cheese, other dairy products, and sea food from Asia, Latin America, and north Africa.

“The ‘forbidden’ foods have been absent from our shelves for almost a year, and … we have somehow survived”, he said.

He claimed that the Russian ban, including an earlier one on pork, linked to complaints about African swine fever, has created piles of unsold goods in Europe. “Their warehouses are overstocked now”, he said.

Polish criticism

Russia began to approach individual EU states and the European Commission on bilateral sanctions relief in January.

But its initiative prompted criticism, primarily from Lithuania and Poland.

Commenting on a Franco-Russian accord on pork sales at the time, Polish agriculture minister Marek Sawicki said: “France has shown many times its relations with Russia are more important to it than its relations inside the EU and that disturbs me".

A German initiative to hold three-way talks between the commission, Russia, and Ukraine on implementation of the EU-Ukraine free trade pact prompted similar criticism.

A ministerial meeting in Brussels on Monday saw Moscow drop its request for the pact to be delayed by one more year, from 2016 to 2017.

But the joint text spoke of “extension of the transition periods” for Ukrainian regulatory alignment with the EU in “specific sectors or products … taking advantage of the flexibilities built into the DCFTA [the trade accord]”.

Ukrainian industrialists fear Russia will find a pretext to impose trade bans or customs blockades when the treaty enters into force.

The joint text also spoke of “strengthened customs co-operation and dialogue” between the three parties, including “EU expert advice and technical support”, with a follow-up report by experts due by July.

A ‘real war’

The trade discussions are taking part in the context of ceasefire violations in east Ukraine.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, in an interview with the BBC on Tuesday, said: “This is not a fight with Russian-backed separatists, this is a real war with Russia”.

“I believe they are preparing an offensive and I think we should be ready”.

For his part, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, following a meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov also on Tuesday, spoke of “the very serious situation we see in eastern Ukraine”, adding: “I … called on Russia to withdraw all its troops and support for the separatists”.

Russia denies its armed forces are in Ukraine.

But Ukraine recently captured two Russian officers in Shchastya, a town near Luhansk in east Ukraine: Yevgeny Yerofeyev, a captain, and Alexander Alexandrov, a sergeant.

Russian soldiers

A seniot US diplomat, Victoria Nuland, who also met Russian officials this week, said it’s “very, very important” the officers are being “well taken care of”.

“Minsk [the name of a Russia-Ukraine ceasefire accord] is being violated on a daily basis … and that is what needs to stop”, she added.

“There is no indication from our own information, or from my consultations in Kiev, that anybody on the Ukrainian side, anybody in leadership … has any intention of launching new hostilities”.

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