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The World Trade Organization has found Russia guilty of breaching global trading rules by banning imports of EU pig meat and pig products because of the outbreak of African swine fever in the Baltic states.
The Russian veterinary authorities Rosselkhoznador banned the imports of EU pig products in 2014 after ASF had been found in Poland, Latvia. Lithuania and Estonia.
The Russian authorities claimed that the EU was not taking sufficient precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the disease.
However, the disputes panel of the WTO has ruled that Russia has acted outside its rules and it has called on the Russian authorities to come into line with WTO regulations.
The WTO ruling concluded: “The Panel found that Russia’s measures are inconsistent with Article 2.3, first sentence, of the SPS Agreement because they arbitrarily and unjustifiably discriminate between Members where identical or similar conditions prevail. The Panel also found that Russia’s measures are inconsistent with Article 2.3, second sentence, because they are applied in a manner which constitutes a disguised restriction on international trade. The Panel exercised judicial economy with respect to the European Union’s claims under Article 5.5.”
The WTO added: “We conclude that, to the extent that the measures at issue are inconsistent with the specified provisions of the SPS Agreement, they have nullified or impaired benefits accruing to European Union under that agreement.
“Having found that Russia acted inconsistently with its obligations under Articles 3.1, 3.2, 5.1, 5.2, 2.2, 5.3, 5.6, 6.1, and 8 as well as Annex C(1)(a) and C(1)(c) of the SPS Agreement, we recommend that the DSB request Russia to bring its measures into conformity with its obligations under the SPS Agreement.”
However, the Russian government has hit back at the findings describing them as “unjustified and not valid”.
A statement from the Russian Ministry of Economic Development said the WTO ruling has shown that Russia’s fears over the threat of the spread of African swine fever were justified.
However, it added that the WTO “panel has seen some discrepancies between the Russian and international standards”.
The ministry statement added: “The Russian side does not agree with the latest findings, since they are not justified or valid.”
It added that it would be making a decision over what action to take in the coming weeks.
The WTO decision has been welcomed by the European Commission.
The Commission said: “The panel acknowledged that Russia’s refusal to accept imports of certain EU products and to adapt EU-Russia import certificates accordingly amounts to an EU-wide import ban.
“This measure is not based on the relevant international standards and violates the rules of the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Agreement). Individual Russian bans on imports from Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia received the same criticism from the panel.
“The ruling sends a strong signal to Russia, and all WTO Members, as regards their obligation to respect international standards, in particular, in this case, the principle of regionalisation (which would allow trade from individual areas of a country which are recognised as pest or disease-free, even if the health status in the rest of the country is not favourable) and the requirement to conduct a risk assessment based on scientific evidence.
“The panel underlined that WTO Members can exercise their right to determine their appropriate levels of sanitary protection and to restrict imports accordingly on the basis of sanitary concerns only when this is done in line with WTO rules.”
The Commission added: “Russia’s protectionist attitude affects a wide variety of other economic sectors. In the recent past, the EU has initiated WTO procedures on a number of trade barriers imposed by Russia, including recycling fees on cars, excess duties on paper and other products, and antidumping duties on light commercial vehicles.”
The panel findings have also been welcomed by the European farming organisation Copa-Cogeca.
Copa- Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen said: “We welcome the fact that the WTO has confirmed that the Russian import ban on live pigs, fresh pork and other pig products from the whole of the EU is illegal in light of international trade rules.
“Since only a limited number of cases of African Swine Fever have emerged in areas close to the border with Belarus, the Panel acknowledged that the ban is disproportionate, protectionist and not based on international standards and violates rules of the WTO Agreement on Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. This is good news.
“But unfortunately the Russian authorities are likely to appeal against the ruling in the next 60 days which means that farmers may not see the benefits of it before 2018.
“Russia used to import 24 per cent of EU’s exports with an average annual value of about €1.4 billion before the SPS restrictions,” Mr Pesonen warned.
“The EU pork market remains meanwhile in a fragile state. Copa and Cogeca have supported the European Commission efforts to find an agreement with the Russian authorities on the EU’s export certificates and veterinary restrictions in order to allow a resumption in trade of EU fats and lard to Russia.
We urge the EU to keep up its efforts to re-open a market that used to take a quarter of our pork exports,” Mr Pesonen said.
The panel report can be appealed within 60 days.
If no appeal is filed within that deadline, the report will be adopted and Russia will be bound to comply with the recommendation.
However, on the day the WTO issued its findings, the Russian veterinary authority, Rosselkhoznador, launched a further blistering attack on the precautionary measures being taken by the EU to tackle African swine fever.
“Since the registration in January 2014 the first case of African swine fever (ASF) in the territory of Eastern Europe epizootic situation for this disease has deteriorated, rapidly covering more and more areas of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland,” Rosselkhoznador said.
It added that this August has seen a sharp decline in the situation in Poland.
The rapid decline in the situation and the failure of the European Commission to take measures to control the outbreaks of African swine fever make it “potentially dangerous, as a source of ASF, for countries outside the EU”.