10th May 2021

Russia and EU clash on trade ahead of summit

  • E Coli lozenges nestle in the pleats of a lettuce leaf (Photo: agrilifetoday)

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has made fun of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the EU ambassador in Moscow in the run-up to an EU-Russia summit.

Using his trademark colourful language, Putin told press in Sochi on Friday (3 June) that he will not lift Russia's E-Coli-related import ban on EU vegetables.

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"The EU says Russia's decision contradicts the spirit of the WTO, but we can't poison people because of some spirit," he said, according to newswires. "I openly admit I don't know what spirit is being contradicted ... But when people are dying from eating cucumbers, then something stinks."

Putin's remarks came after the EU ambassador in Moscow, Fernando Valenzuela, protested that the blanket ban goes against the code of the Geneva-based free trade club.

"As the intention of Russia, which we support fully, is to join the WTO, possibly this year ... Russia should voluntarily be already implementing these rules in full," the EU envoy told reporters in Moscow on Thursday.

The disagreement comes a few days before EU and Russian officials sit down in Nizhny Novgorod on 9 June to discuss prospects of Russia's WTO entry.

An EU official told this website that EU-Russia talks are in the "endgame" phase, but that concerns remain over "protectionism" in some sectors.

The vegetable ban is set to help domestic Russian farmers - Russia imports 11 percent of its tomatoes from the EU and five percent of cucumbers.

Lebanon is the only other country to react with a total blockade. The EU envoy in Beirut, Angelina Eickhorst, said on Saturday the vegetable ban is "scientifically unjustified" and violates a 2006 EU-Lebanon agreement.

German scientists over the weekend continued to hunt for the source of the E Coli outbreak, with the likeliest suspect being bean sprouts in Lower Saxony.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says over 20 people have died and 2,000 have been infected since early May.

Cases - relating to people who travelled to Germany - have also occurred in Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US. The epidemic has mostly affected women.

The Escherichia coli (E Coli) bacterium lives in the gut of warm-blooded animals. It can cause bloody diarrhoea, cramps, fever and vomiting. Some patients develop haemolytic uraemic syndrome, a potentially fatal kidney condition.

EU health ministers will discuss the situation at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.

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