Russia plays down EU claim of vegetable ban end

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Russia on Wednesday played down an EU claim of an imminent end to its vegetable embargo and said shipments would only resume once the two sides agreed on a list of trustworthy European food testing labs.

A closed-door round of negotiations ended with a victorious announcement from a visiting European Commission delegation and words of caution from the head of Russia's consumer protection agency.

Russia introduced its embargo on June 2 after the deadly E. coli outbreak in Germany and the two sides agreed at the June 10 summit to move toward a certification system that could pave the wave toward a resumption of trade.

About one-fifth of Russia's vegetables imports come from the 27-nation bloc in annual trade worth about 600 million euros ($865 million).

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

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

Onishchenko said the sides essentially reaffirmed the principles agreed by European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during summit talks on June 10.

The Nizhny Novgorod summit in central Russia agreed a new certifications system that would meet Moscow's safety demands and pave the wave toward a resumption of trade.

But the two sides have struggled to pin down the working details of the new system and the Russian official made clear that imports would remain suspended until all safety concerns were resolved.

Onishchenko said Russia and European Commission officials would now sit down and agree on a list of European labs that conduct food testing and whose standards meet Moscow's requirements.

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

"Then we will resume" imports, the Russian health safety official said.

A spokesman for the European Commission in Brussels had earlier said he expected the agreements reached Wednesday to lead to an imminent resumption of Russian imports.

"We are heading towards an immediate resumption of European vegetables, based on EU certificates that will explain to the Russian authorities that in each EU state there are labs and a surveillance and verification system," said Frederic Vincent, the commission's health spokesman.

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

© 2011 AFP

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