Russia's EU livestock ban raises WTO concerns

By Alan Osborn

- Last updated on GMT

Russia's EU livestock ban raises WTO concerns

Related tags European union Beef Livestock Pork

Russia’s ban on certain live cattle and pig imports from the European Union (EU) is being used by the European Commission as a method to assess whether Russia will deliver on the commitments it made when joining the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Commission officials told​ that the matter was being seen as “an early test of Russia’s good faith”​ in signing up for international free trade principles. They would not, however, remark on whether or when the EU would launch WTO disputes proceedings over the issue.

After 18 years of negotiations, Russia finally joined the WTO on August 22. Earlier last week, however, Commission agricultural spokesman Roger Waite said the import ban was “not in line with the WTO principles, as they are not proportionate, not scientifically justified, and they are discriminatory.”​  He added there are also concerns that the Russian veterinary service “intends to maintain”​ Russian market access requirements, “for some time after the date of accession.”

According to the Commission, Russian restrictions were initially placed on cattle and small ruminants and breeding material from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, France, the UK, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain and Denmark due to concerns around the spread of Schmallenberg disease.

In February of this year, Russia’s state veterinary service Rosselkhoznadzor said that the ban was based on “serious concerns [around] the absence of measures to limit animal movements from affected regions.”​ Under WTO rules, such bans must be grounded in respectable science.

Encouraging signs

The Russian market is not currently a substantial one for British producers, said Stephen Rossides, director of the British Meat Processors Association – but he speculated, however, that the situation might improve after WTO entry. “The Russian veterinary authorities are quite demanding and there is a lot of bureaucracy…but hopefully entry into the WTO will make them a bit less unpredictable,”​ he told​.

While the present dispute over Schmallenberg between Russia and the EU has affected the UK meat sector, Rossides said there have been “encouraging signs”​ as of late, following a recent meeting in Moscow between Dr Nigel Gibbens – the UK’s chief veterinary officer – and Rosselkhoznadzor.

According to Rosselkhoznadzor, Dr Gibbens “expressed his understanding of the Rosselkhoznadzor position concerning the prevention of Schmallenberg virus introduction to the RF [Russian Federation] territory.”

Dr Gibbens was quoted as saying that “studies were currently in progress in Europe aimed at proving that Schmallenberg virus was not transmitted with genetic material of susceptible animals.”​ However, Rosselkhoznadzor noted that no conclusions can be made until the studies are completed; when the temporary restrictions will be discussed.

Total EU beef exports to Russia in the first 11 months of 2011 totaled 128,498 tonnes cwe (carcass weight equivalent) – making Russia the EU’s second largest beef export market after Turkey.

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