First a little background about the row between Russia and EU. Russia decided to restrict market access for EU’s live pigs, pork and other related products in 2014 after cases of highly contagious African swine fever were detected near the Belarus border in the EU. Bans were imposed between January and September 2014 citing the sanitary and phytosanitary measures allowed under WTO rules. It was also the same time period when the EU and Russia locked horns over the crisis in Ukraine. EU and the US then went to impose several sanctions on Russia.
Russia was a lucrative export market worth $1.55bn for the EU. The blanket ban on import of pork from the EU therefore, wiped out 25% of EU’s exports.
Despite extensive bilateral concessions, a mutually acceptable decision could not be reached forcing EU to bring the issue to the attention of the WTO dispute settlement body.
WTO panel’s verdict was announced on August 19th. It has ruled in favour of the EU. According to the WTO, Russia’s sweeping ban on pork imports from the EU was a violation of the rules of the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Agreement). WTO has asked Russia to ensure that its measures comply with its obligations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Russia will now have to reevaluate its Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) and rethink its decision to keep in place the ban on EU pork. Russia’s decision to impose the ban on imports from Poland, Lithuania and Estonia was also criticised.
WTO hopes the ruling will send out a strong signal to Russia as well as other WTO member nations about the need to adhere and respect international standards, especially regionalisation. Under regionalisation, trade is allowed from parts of the country that are recognised as pest and disease free even if the overall health status of the country is not satisfactory.
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,” reads an EU statement.
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. The ruling confirms that the measures taken by Russia against the EU have little to do with any real sanitary or health risks. EU products are safe and there is thus no need for any country to maintain unjustified import restrictions.”
“Nevertheless, the panel’s findings are of systemic importance, since they remind Russia about its international obligations and the fact that these cannot be arbitrarily ignored.
“The EU will continue to use WTO procedures to ensure that international trade rules are effectively respected. Indeed, the WTO dispute settlement remains the strongest option to tackle significant trade barriers and to thus increase legal certainty and predictability for trade.”
Russia has 60 days to appeal and in case they fail to file an appeal Russia will have to accept and implement WTO panel’s consideration. Sergei Dankvert, head of the Russian food safety watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor stated that Moscow is likely to appeal the decision. The economy ministry he says though will have to take a call.
The dispute is not just restricted to the import of pork products from EU. Russia has also imposed a ban on the import of agri products from EU two years ago. The ban EU alleges is politically motivated.