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EU opposes Russian ban on Polish exports

The European Union opposes Russia's ban of Polish meat and vegetable exports and will “certainly” raise the matter at a summit in Helsinki this week, said Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen.

Vanhanen visited Warsaw on November 17 to discuss the dispute with Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and seek a compromise ahead of the EU-Russia summit on November 24. The conflict over exports of Polish goods threatens to derail energy talks between the EU and Russia. “We have strong solidarity with Poland regarding the Russian ban on Polish foodstuffs,” Vanhanen said in an e-mailed copy of a speech delivered today in Helsinki. “Recent Russian statements on the matter are encouraging. Russia is now saying that the ban will be lifted as soon as the outstanding technical issues have been resolved.” Poland was the only member of the 25-member EU that vetoed discussions on a proposed trade and energy agreement with Russia this week, arguing that Russia must first lift its embargo of food products and agree to open its energy market to western investors. Russia banned imports of Polish meat and vegetable products 12 months ago following allegations of smuggling and violations of hygiene laws. The ban forced Polish farmers and food makers to reduce prices amid domestic oversupply, dragging the inflation rate below the central bank's 1.5% to 3.5% target range for the past 12 months.

Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen is to fly to the Polish capital Warsaw in an attempt to defuse a confrontation over the EU's relationship with Russia. Poland is currently blocking the start of EU-Russia negotiations on a new strategic partnership agreement. Warsaw has said before that the EU should be tougher with Russia, and it is now digging in, just a week before talks on the pact were due to start. It wants a Russian ban on Polish meat and vegetable imports lifted first. It also wants Russia to ratify an international agreement on energy investment and distribution. BBC Europe correspondent Jonny Dymond says Poland is quite badly isolated within the EU on this question. Only Lithuania fully supports its position. Other countries, though they agree that Poland has a case, are frustrated with Poland's robust negotiating style, our correspondent says. Vanhanen has the role of attempting to persuade the Poles to back down because his country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency. An EU-Russia summit is scheduled for 24 November, and the EU would like the negotiations on the new agreement with Russia to begin then. (Bloomberg, BBC NEWS)