Wednesday

17th Aug 2022

EU presses Russia to drop Polish meat ban

The European Commission has given a new dossier on Polish meat export standards to Moscow in the hope of breaking an 18 month deadlock on Russian-Polish trade that risks making the upcoming EU-Russia summit in Samara another flop.

"All the questions raised by the Russian authorities were addressed comprehensively...the replies should enable them to lift the embargo," commission spokesman Philip Tod said on Friday (30 March), adding that Brussels hopes for a "swift resolution."

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  • Moscow: "Time is of the essence," Mr Tod said (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Russia imposed the ban on Polish meat and vegetable exports in 2005, citing poor standards in re-export certification that allegedly saw Latin American buffalo meat sold as European beef in Russian stores. The embargo is costing Poland about €400 million a year in lost trade.

Both the European Commission and Polish authorities say the Polish food system is safe however, with Warsaw accusing Moscow of playing political games against one of the most Russia-critical EU members in an attempt to test or undermine EU solidarity with post-Communist states.

The situation has seen Poland slap a veto on launching EU-Russia talks on a new bilateral treaty, which embarrased all concerned at the EU-Russia summit in Helsinki last November. Since then, Russian food experts have asked for fresh inspections in Poland and file after file of European Commission studies.

When asked by press what might happen if Russia deems Brussels' latest submission inadequate, Mr Tod said the EU would be happy to provide any further clarifications required, but he added that "time is of the essence," with the Samara summit just seven weeks away.

"We hope to be able to resolve this disagreement before the summit so that we can start negotiations on a partnership and cooperation agreement," German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told AFP as he arrived for a meeting in Bremen on Friday.

EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson has also begun making reference to the Polish meat issue when talking about the process of Russia's World Trade Organisation (WTO) membership, which is approaching a key stage that will see all WTO members have to give unanimous support if Russia is to join this year.

Mr Mandelson's officials explained that this is not a "quid pro quo" situation of EU support for WTO accession in return for lifting the meat embargo, but they did suggest that any politicisation of trade issues is not in keeping with the rules of the WTO club.

The mixing up of the two issues has not gone unnoticed in Moscow. "I hope not," Russia's ambassor to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, said when asked by EUobserver if the EU is trying to leverage the WTO issue. "That would not be helpful."

If the meat ban is dropped before Samara there is no guarantee that Warsaw will automatically lift its veto. Poland's EU veto policy is being decided at prime minister and president level, with the ruling Kaczynski brothers not known for their transparency in Brussels.

Poland and Lithuania also have wider energy concerns about EU-Russia relations, with Russia set to build a new Baltic Sea gas pipeline to Germany bypassing Poland by 2011.

The project could allow Moscow in future to switch off Polish or Lithuanian gas supplies without affecting the richer EU states in the west.

Friendship needs repairs

Russia already switched off a little branch of the so-called Druzhba oil pipeline feeding Lithuania's Mazeikiu Nafta for "technical" reasons after Lithuania sold the plant to a Polish firm instead of a Russian bidder. Vilnius' annoyance at lack of EU solidarity on the issue has also seen it threaten to veto the EU-Russia talks.

Joint Polish-Lithuanian pressure led to European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso promising in a letter of 8 March he will raise the Druzhba problem at the highest level with Russia. But his intervention, as with the European Commission's initial intervention on Polish meat, lacks bite for now.

Mr Barroso and his energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs have contacted Russia's Mr Chizhov on Mazeikiu in the past few weeks, the Russian ambassador said, but he added that they did not apply any pressure or mention Vilnius' fears of a political dimension to the shutdown.

"They just asked when. Quando?" it will reopen, Mr Chizhov said, adding that Moscow might present a study "quite soon" on how long its repairs - which have already lasted nine months - will take.

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