Russia vegetable ban against WTO entry rules: EU

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Russia's ban on all vegetable imports from the European Union is not compliant with the entry rules of the World Trade Organisation, which Moscow hopes to join, the EU envoy said Friday.

Fernando Valenzuela, the head of the EU delegation to Russia, urged Moscow to lift the ban imposed in the wake of a lethal bacteria outbreak in Germany as soon as possible.

"Russia wants (to join) and we hope will actually join the WTO in the near future," he told a news conference in Moscow.

"One of the aspects of joining the WTO are a number of regulations... and certainly the ban that has been decided by the sanitary authorities of Russia is not compliant with those rules.

"It is a little surprising you are taking measures that go in the opposite direction," he added.

Valenzuela said "we have to look at this situation positively" and expressed "hope it will be solved in a few days."

Russia, which opened negotiations to join the WTO in 1993, is the largest economy to remain outside the Geneva-based body but is hoping to finally complete talks on its accession this year.

The EU envoy said that while as a non-WTO member Russia currently had no legal obligation to obey the body's rules, it should already be implementing its regulations.

"I think the logic of it is that Russia should... be already implementing these rules in full, he said.

"It is probably not the most logical thing to wait to the last day to do that," he noted.

Valenzuela added: "This ban is not justified because it is disproportionate and because there is not sufficient scientific basis to justify a ban which is across the board for all vegetables and all EU member states."

The ban was announced by the Russian consumer protection watchdog chief Gennady Onishchenko, who has already angered several of Russia's trade partners in the past by issuing controversial bans on certain imports.

"Thank goodness that Russia is not a member of the WTO!" the liberal business daily Vedomisti wrote in a hugely sarcastic editorial. "The fact we are not a member is saving us from ghastly European vegetables."

"How lucky we are to live in Russia where our chief doctor (Onishchenko) more than once saved our lives from Moldovan and Georgian wine, Finnish baby food and Belarussian milk," it added with heavy irony, referring to past bans.

The outbreak of E. coli poisoning that has killed at least 18 people appears to be stabilising, a senior doctor in the German city of Hamburg, the epicentre of the outbreak, said Friday.

Russia's talks to join the WTO have already hit trouble as Georgia, with whom it fought a war in 2008, continues to insist that it could use its right as a WTO member to veto Russian entry.

Tbilisi is demanding the right to monitor border crossings in the Russian-backed breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which were recognised as independent states by Moscow after the Georgia-Russia war in August 2008 but are regarded by Georgia as parts of its sovereign territory.

© 2011 AFP

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