New meat import restrictions could threaten Russian-led Customs Union

By Vladislav Vorotnikov

- Last updated on GMT

Products will only be allowed to transit the Russian Federation if they have passed through checkpoints
Products will only be allowed to transit the Russian Federation if they have passed through checkpoints

Related tags: Customs union, European union, Russia, Belarus, Beef, Livestock, Pork, Poultry

Russia has announced restrictions on the imports of a number of food products from its partners in the Customs Union – Belarus and Kazakhstan – as the issue of re-exporting banned products from the European Union (EU) and Canada continues to raise Russian authorities’ concerns.

Russia has promised to ban any transit on its territory of meat supplies not inspected by the country’s veterinary body Rosselkhoznadzor. This means the introduction of Customs and veterinary inspections at the Russian border, which flies in the face of the Customs Union concept, with a single economic and Customs space.

"[We] will only allow products to transit the Russian Federation that have passed through the checkpoints on the Russian border,"​ said head of Rosselkhoznadzor Sergey Dankvert, adding that the measure will be implemented shortly.

At the same time, Russia has implemented restrictions livestock imports from 19 Belarusian companies. Estimates from the Belarusian Agricultural Ministry show that this measure will probably cost the country US$300 million by the end of the year.

Russia has repeatedly claimed that, following its food embargo, implemented on 7 August 2014, its partners in the Customs Union have been making money by re-exporting illegal meat and milk products from the EU and Canada to Russia.

The problem, it says, has become even more serious following a series of livestock disease outbreaks in the EU, including the H5N8 strain of bird flu, which could enter Russia via fraudulent channels, which the Russian veterinary body says it is unable to control.

Dankvert added that it notified Belarus about these issues on several occasions. "We sent these results to our Belarusian colleagues a month ago,"​ he claimed.

Russia also claimed that officials in Minsk had promised they would not allow any re-export of European products to the Russian market. However, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said the problem of re-exporting European goods was "not worth even a cent". "Belarus is not authorising or supporting re-export supplies,"​ he claimed.

However, data suggests that Belarus is doing very little to counter re-exports. Since August this year, imports products banned in Russia from the EU to Belarus jumped by 80%.

Meanwhile, Russian authorities claimed Kazakhstan had completely refused to cooperate on the issue of re-exports. The initiative to introduce internal veterinary controls met with strong resistance from Kazakhstan’s authorities.

"Introducing restrictions on the transit of food imports to Kazakhstan from the EU is not an issue. We are conducting our own independent export and import policy. And in this regard no restrictions on Kazakhstan can be implemented,"​ said Kazakhstan’s deputy minister of national economy Madina Abylkasymova, adding that the mutual sanctions between Russia and the EU bear no relation to Kazakhstan.

Experts warned that the Russian authorities’ decision undermines the very concept of the Customs Union – free movement of goods and services. And the conflict of interest may be impossible to resolve. It is not clear how Belarus and Kazakhstan will react to the restrictions when they are implemented. Belarus, in particular, has promised to take counter measures. 

"If the trade between the two countries is not normalised, we will be forced to react,"​ said Lukashenko.

Kazakhstan has simply refused to negotiate on the issue so far.

"Kazakhstan does not accept our system [of veterinary control on transit of meat production] and does not intend to participate in negotiations on this. We consider this as an unwillingness to meet us half way,"​ said Julia Trofimova, a spokesperson for the Rosselkhoznadzor.

Related topics: Meat

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