EU, Russia in poisonous vegetable row over costly ban

22nd June 2011, Comments 0 comments

The EU and Russia locked horns Wednesday over Moscow's costly ban on European vegetables with Brussels announcing an imminent end to the embargo that was swiftly denied by Russia.

Russia's three-week old ban on EU vegetables due to fears of contamination from Germany's deadly E.coli outbreak would be lifted "this week, or even tomorrow", said a spokesman for the EU's executive, the European Commission.

"An agreement was signed this morning between the EU and the Russian Federation. We are heading towards an immediate resumption of exports of European vegetables," said Frederic Vincent, spokesman for the health commissioner.

"Exports will be able to resume this week, or even tomorrow," he added.

But moments later in Moscow, the head of Russia's consumer protection watchdog threw doubt on the end of the ban affecting 25 percent of Europe's vegetable exports.

"As far as the claim that it will happen immediately, these rumours are exaggerated," Rospotrebnadzor chief Gennady Onishchenko told the Interfax news agency after a Moscow round of negotiations aimed at ending the ban.

"We are introducing a special regime. No embargo has been lifted," he separately told the RIA Novosti news agency.

Asked to comment on Moscow's position, Vincent told AFP: "I can confirm exports will resume from tomorrow from Belgium, the Netherlands and Poland."

Russia slapped an embargo on fresh EU produce on June 2, amid the E. coli outbreak in Germany. As outrage mounted among Europe's fruit and vegetable farmers, the two sides agreed at a June 10 summit to move toward a certification system, paving the way for a resumption of trade.

About a fifth of Russia's vegetable imports come from the 27-nation bloc.

Europe's vegetable exports to Russia bring in 600 million euros ($860 million) a year, mainly from Poland, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Belgium.

Vincent said that under an EU-Russia accord struck early Wednesday, the EU would supply Russian authorities "temporarily" with laboratory "surveillance and verification" papers to certify the products did not carry the deadly bacterium.

Belgium, the Netherlands and Poland have already put in place an E.coli monitoring and certification system.

The European Commission will transmit to Russia's health authorities "the names of the relevant national authorities competent to sign a certificate that must be stamped on exports for Russia, and the names of the national laboratories accredited to monitor the vegetables," the commission said.

The certification system will be a temporary measure kept in place until 10 days after the last human case of E.coli is reported in the EU.

In Moscow, Onishchenko said the two sides had reaffirmed the principles agreed by European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and President Dmitry Medvedev at a June 10 summit.

The two sides since have struggled to pin down the details since that meeting, and Russia said imports would remain suspended until all safety concerns were resolved.

Onishchenko said Russia and the EU still needed to agree on a list of European laboratories whose food testing standards meet Moscow's requirements.

"Everything depends on when they submit the lab list to us," Onishchenko said.

"Then we will resume" imports, he added.

© 2011 AFP

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