Russia to lift ban on EU vegetables
Russia on Friday agreed to lift its import ban on EU vegetables imposed in the wake of the E. coli outbreak that provoked a bitter trade row between Moscow and Brussels.
After two days of summit talks, EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and Russian President Dmitry Mededev both said Moscow would lift the ban although it was unclear if this would happen in the next two days.
"We are happy that we have agreed the ban on vegetables from the EU will be lifted," Barroso said at a joint news conference with Medvedev in the central Volga city of Nizhny Novgorod.
Without giving a specific time frame for the lifting of the ban, he said that the European Union would send certificates to Russia within the next two days to get the procedure underway.
Medvedev confirmed Russia's willingness to lift the ban, saying sanitary experts from the two sides would have to shortly agree on subsequent moves.
"We discussed a mechanism of resuming supplies of European vegetables to the Russian market," Medvedev said.
"We are ready to resume such supplies against guarantees from competent services of the European Union. This is absolutely certain."
Specialists from Russia and the EU will in the near future have to agree on the certificates that will confirm that vegetables headed for Russia are safe, he added.
Russia's chief doctor Gennady Onishchenko, head of the consumer protection watchdog that imposed the ban, declined to confirm that it would be lifted within the next two days.
"The ball is in their (the EU) court so everything will depend on how hard they try," he told reporters afterwards.
The European Union reacted furiously to the ban imposed by Russia last month, saying that it was disproportionate and was not scientifically justified, and called for it to be immediately lifted.
The head of the EU delegation to Russia also suggested that the unilateral ban was not in the spirit of Russia's longstanding bid to join the World Trade Organisation.
Medvedev and the EU leaders were speaking after official talks on the second day of a Russia-EU summit, a twice-yearly event. On Thursday, they held informal talks and had dinner and a river cruise.
Medvedev jokingly told journalists the leaders had eaten vegetables including a dish of tomatoes and said he did not know their origin. "I don't know where they came from. We'll live and see," he said.
Barroso raised the vegetable issue while talking of Russia's bid for WTO accession, saying that issues of "sanitary and phytosanitary measures" would have to be regulated amid ongoing discussions on membership of the global trade body.
Russia is frustrated by its 18-year-long accession process to the World Trade Organisation, which has left it as the largest economy to remain outside the body.
Barroso said that "Russia's WTO accession is still possible this year" and praised the talks at what he called a "substantive and successful summit."
Russia last week imposed a blanket ban on imports to prevent the spread of the E. coli bacteria that has left at least 30 dead and some 3,000 sick.
Critics have repeatedly accused Moscow of using import bans on produce as tools to pursue political goals. The ban comes after Russia's repeated calls to scrap the visa regime with the European Union have met with silence.
© 2011 AFP