The official reason given for the move was a recent report from Kazakhstan’s State Agency on Consumer Protection (SACP), which indicated that meat products supplied to the country from Russia were often infected with E.coli and salmonella, threatening the health of consumers.
"We have studied imported products [primarily from Russia] during the month. During this time our experts examined more than 1,000 product samples. As a result, we found that some batches of products were infected with E.coli and salmonella. Also, we found the presence of pigmeat in some products, which, according to the label, should not contain pork," said SACP chairman Aliakpar Matishev.
As a result, said Matishev, Kazakhstan’s veterinary services had returned a large batch of poultry (5 tonnes) to Russia. The presence of pork in products with no appropriate labelling was also deemed a critical problem for the country, where more than half of consumers are Muslim.
This is not the first time that representatives of the industry in Kazakhstan have appealed to the government to limit supplies of meat products from Russia. However, previously, such requests were connected to the devaluation of the Russian currency, which has made Russian food products cheaper, making it hard for Kazakhstan manufacturers to compete.
"If we talk about the fact that, today, we need some way to support domestic manufacturers, we have two ways to do this – either via correction [of the exchange rate of Kazakhstan’s currency tenge against the ruble] or closing the borders. Perhaps, after all, the closure would be more painless and more rewarding for our producers and for our economy," said Umut Shayakhmetova, head of the National Bank of Kazakhstan.
In response, Russian sanitary service Rospotrebnadzor, announced that it had discovered several batches of poor-quality food products from Kazakhstan in markets across a number of Russian regions. In the past couple of years, Kazakhstan has seen a sixfold increase in meat exports to the markets of the Customs Union, from US$1.4million in 2012 to US$9m in 2014, according to official statistics.
The current situation has prompted Russian observers to say the two countries have entered a "trade war" or "meat war". However, the leaders of both countries continue to deny that any real conflict is taking place.
"Kazakhstan is not engaged in any trade war with Russia," said Kazakhstan’s Deputy Minister of National Economy Kairbek Uskenbaev, adding that the recent incidents in the meat market concerned only specific producers, which had violated the veterinary requirements of the Customs Union.
Meanwhile, Dmitry Peskov, press-secretary to the Russian President, added: "I think it’s quite a strong exaggeration. In any case, wording such as a ‘trade war’ is not entirely correct."