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EC welcomes WTO verdict on Russia's EU pork ban

By Keith Nuthall , 19-Aug-2016
Last updated on 19-Aug-2016 at 19:57 GMT2016-08-19T19:57:10Z

The European Commission branded Russia's ban of EU pigmeat exports protectionist
The European Commission branded Russia's ban of EU pigmeat exports protectionist

The European Commission (EC) has welcomed a World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruling opposing Russia’s bans on EU exports of pigs, pigmeat and related products, imposed during 2014 because of outbreaks of African swine fever (ASF). 

Russia, meanwhile, has said it is studying the ruling and may yet appeal.

In any case for the time being, even if Russia scraps its swine fever-related ban, EU pigmeat and related product exports are still blocked by Russia’s general embargo on western food exports, imposed over the Ukraine crisis.

The EU however has said it welcomes the WTO ruling for underlining global trade rules that exports from areas of a jurisdiction which recognised as pest or disease-free should be permitted, even if there are health problems in the rest of a territory.

Products safe

In this case, African swine fever cases were found in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. And, citing the EU’s free trade between member states, Russia imposed an EU-wide import ban. The EU has long argued that its internal livestock movement and veterinary controls mean that pigs and pigmeat products from areas unaffected by the disease are safe. As a result, Russia’s import ban is not based on science and hence breaks WTO sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) rules, Brussels has claimed.

A WTO disputes settlement panel has now largely backed that conclusion. In its report released on Friday 19 August 2016, it said: “Russia did not adapt the EU-wide ban to the SPS characteristics related to ASF of the areas where the products subject to that measure originated….”

It also concluded that additional Russian bans on imported pigmeat products that had been specially treated to ensure the destruction of swine fever were not based on principles developed by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), which WTO member states should follow to stay within global trading rules.

'Strong signal'

A statement from the European Commission released the same day said: “The ruling sends a strong signal to Russia, and all WTO Members, as regards their obligation to respect international standards.” Branding Russia’s ban as a purely protectionist measure, the Commission claimed: “The EU has one of the world's most efficient animal health and food safety systems, including high detection levels and stringent risk management rules. Today's ruling confirms that the measures taken by Russia against the EU have little to do with any real sanitary or health risks.”

Russian state news agency TASS has reported the country’s permanent WTO representative Gennady Ovechko claiming Russia suffered in the WTO disputes case because of the “lack of a preliminary risk assessment” of the issue in EU member states unaffected by the outbreak. He also welcomed the element of the WTO decision that Russia’s ban on untreated pig meat exports from Latvia was within WTO rules.

Russia will now have to decide whether it appeals to the WTO disputes appellate body. Ovechko would “carefully analyse” the decision, said TASS. If it ignores any negative WTO rulings, the trade body could authorise the EU to impose retaliatory duties against Russian exports, recouping revenue reflecting losses caused by Russian bans breaching global trade rules.

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