Russia blocks EU’s WTO complaint over pork embargo
Russia on Thursday blocked a European Union attempt to call in the WTO to rule on Moscow's embargo on pork from the 28-nation bloc, trade sources said.
The embargo, imposed in January, is one of a raft of disputes between the EU and Russia to have come before the World Trade Organization.
Moscow says the ban is essential because of the discovery of cases of African Swine Fever in the EU, an argument that Brussels rejects.
The EU filed a complaint with the WTO last month.
At a meeting of the WTO’s dispute settlement body on Thursday, Russian diplomats exercised their right to oppose the creation of an independent panel of trade and legal experts to hear the dispute.
Under WTO regulations, Moscow can only do that once, leaving Brussels with the option of filing a second request at a later date.
While African Swine Fever does not represent a danger for humans, it can be deadly for domestic pigs and thus batter the livestock sector.
Russia imposed the embargo on imports of live pigs and pork products after the discovery of two cases among wild boar in EU member states Poland and Lithuania.
On Wednesday, Switzerland, which is not part of the EU, also banned imports from Bulgaria and Romania and some regions of Latvia and Croatia.
That followed the discovery in late June of three dead wild boar near the border with Belarus, from where the disease is thought to have emanated. Latvia responded by ordering a mass cull of pigs.
While members of the 160-economy WTO are allowed to restrict trade on health grounds, Brussels maintains that the Russian ban is totally misplaced.
Poland and Lithuania are both significant players players in a European pork sector dominated by Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands.
Russia has long been a major market for EU pork, buying an annual 1.4 billion euros’ worth ($1.9 billion).
Brussels says its sector is losing four million euros ($5.4 million) a day because of the ban.
It accuses Russia of discriminatory and disproportionate trade measures, noting that imports from Moscow’s ally Belarus are allowed even though that ex-Soviet republic has also seen cases.
Critics say Russia’s quality concerns are also a figleaf for political punishment against ex-communist countries such as Poland and Lithuania that refuse to toe the Kremlin line.
Since joining the WTO in 2012, Russia has banned dairy products, chocolates and wine from various ex-communist countries.
Brussels has already asked the WTO to rule on Russia’s “recycling fee” imposed on cars, trucks, buses and other vehicles, which applies only to imports not domestic-made models.
Moscow, in turn, has challenged EU measures against steel and fertiliser makers which benefit from subsidised energy prices that Brussels says skews trade in their favour.
Russia has also hit the EU with a complaint over energy market reforms which it says hurt its gas giant Gazprom.
WTO panels can authorise retaliatory trade measures if they rule in favour of a plaintiff.