Russia bans Polish fruit and veg imports in apparent retaliation

Ban ‘for sanitary reasons’ may be extended to imports from rest of EU, Moscow says

Russian president Vladimir Putin chairs a government meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Alexei Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

Russian president Vladimir Putin chairs a government meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Alexei Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

Wed, Jul 30, 2014, 23:47

Russia announced a ban on most fruit and vegetable imports from Poland today and said it may extend the restrictions to the rest of the European Union, its first apparent retaliation to new western sanctions imposed over Ukraine yesterday earlier.

Moscow, which buys more than €2 billion worth of EU fruit and vegetables a year, making it by far the biggest export market for the products, said the ban was for sanitary reasons.

The Polish agriculture ministry said the ban was a response by the Kremlin to the increased EU sanctions against Russia, and Polish fruit growers also said the ban was political. However, Russia denied this.

Moscow has frequently been accused in the past of using sanitary inspections to restrict trade from countries with which it has political disputes. The EU said it was studying the announcement, describing it as a surprise.

Sanctions
The ban came a day after the EU and United States imposed their first sanctions aimed at hitting broad sectors of the Russian economy, restricting sales of equipment for the oil and defence industries and limiting access by state-controlled banks to western capital markets.

According to European Commission figures, the EU sold Russia €1.2 billion worth of fruit and €886 million worth of vegetables in 2011, accounting for 28 per cent of the bloc’s exports of fruit and 21.5 per cent of its vegetables. For some EU countries, including Poland, the percentages are even higher.

By first targeting Poland, which was part of the Soviet bloc until just over two decades ago, Moscow is striking at one of the EU’s most strident supporters of increased sanctions against Russia for its backing of rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Russia’s Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Service (VPSS) will restrict most fruit and vegetable imports from Poland starting from tomorrow, due to “the violation of certification and the identification of quarantine products”, spokesman Alexei Alekseenko said.

He said the move was part of a VPSS plan to consider restricting all or some fruit imports from the entire EU, announced with little fanfare on Monday while European countries were debating the latest sanctions. The VPSS said at the time it would decide the fate of overall EU imports in a week or two.

“Our restrictions are not linked with EU sanctions, because this situation [with Polish imports] has been developing for a long time,” Mr Alekseenko said. “We impose these limits not to try to get something from the Polish side, but to have our rights observed as a WTO [World Trade Organisation] member.”

Tomasz Solis, deputy head of the Polish Fruitgrowers’ Association, said the decision was “politically motivated”.

“The political situation in Ukraine would sooner or later have affected our relations with Russia,” he said. “Russia is one of our prime target markets, with 60 or perhaps even 70 per cent of our exports going there.”

A spokesman for the European Commission said it was studying the new restrictions.

“Let me be very clear that they came unannounced by the Russian authorities – they were not announced beforehand – so what the commission will do now is to analyse the measures and the grounds they have been taken, and we will take action in due course,” a spokesman for the commission said in Brussels. – (Reuters)