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EU says Russia threatens ban on meat, fruit from enlarged bloc

Russia is threatening to ban meat, fruit and vegetables from the European Union due to health concerns once Romania and Bulgaria join the bloc in January, the European Commission said.

The threat adds to tensions between the EU and Russia that have been stoked by a Russian blockade of meat and vegetables from Poland, an EU member since 2004. Russia needs the EU's support to join the World Trade Organization. "The EU would regard such a ban as unacceptable and totally unjustified," Philip Tod, a commission spokesman, said today. "We're confident that Russia will understand this once we've explained our position fully."

Russia bought €5.25 billion ($6.7 billion) of meat, grain, dairy products, fruit and vegetables from the EU, Romania and Bulgaria in 2005, according to the commission, the 25-nation EU's executive arm. Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, wasn't immediately available to comment, his office said. Germany accounted for 19% of EU food exports to Russia, followed by the Netherlands at 16%, Poland at 9.7% and France at 8.5%.

Bulgaria and Romania combined for just 1% of European trade with Russia in the products. The commission has offered to send a delegation to Moscow in order to deal with Russian health and safety concerns, Tod said. The regulator has already sent a letter to the Russian authorities showing how it will deal with the animal diseases swine fever and blue tongue in Romania and Bulgaria after they become members on January 1. (Bloomberg)