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EU-Russia talks blocked over Polish export dispute

The European Union and Russia won't start tomorrow's planned negotiations on a trade agreement after Poland stood firm in a trade dispute with President Vladimir Putin's government.

The start of talks would have required unanimous approval of EU member states, which Poland refused to join because of a Russian ban on Polish meat and vegetables. Poland also insisted that Russia ratify an existing treaty governing energy investment, which Russia has refused to do. “There was no compromise, so the partnership and cooperation agreement negotiations will not be launched at the EU-Russia summit tomorrow,” said Sanna Kangasharju, spokeswoman for the Finnish government, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency. The news was announced on the eve of Putin's meeting with EU leaders in Helsinki. The EU is seeking an agreement to help Western energy companies gain more access to the Russian market and any pact would be part of a new, broader accord between the two sides. “There is no need for dramatizing this situation. The summit itself is a very important event.

The problem is on the side of the European Union,” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in Helsinki. “We are ready to wait in a very constructive manner and meanwhile we have lots and lots of things to discuss.” Peskov said that Russia was not disappointed by the cancellation saying “we think that Brussels should be disappointed.”. He spoke to reporters at Finland's presidential palace. “A great deal has changed since the last agreement was negotiated,” said EU external relations spokeswoman Emma Udwin, citing Russia's planned membership in the World Trade Organisation, tensions over energy supply, and congestion at Russian border checkpoints. The EU reiterated its call for three-way talks over Russia's ban of meat and vegetables from Poland, saying the year-old embargo has “EU-wide ramifications.” Calling the ban “disproportionate,” Philip Tod, a spokesman for the European Commission, said today that “tripartite discussions” by Poland, Russia and the commission, the EU's executive arm, “need to be launched without delay.”

The Russian ban of meat and some vegetables was prompted by accusations by the Russian authorities that Polish producers are violating hygiene laws and smuggling. Putin said today at a news conference in Helsinki there is no problem with the quality of Polish produce itself. “We don't have claims against the quality of Polish food. The problem is somewhere else,” he said, adding that Polish authorities had failed to oversee certification of food from third countries. ”The dispute with Poland will not spread to all of the European Union,” Putin told the news conference. Russian authorities including Putin have raised concerns that the entry of Romania and Bulgaria to the European Union on January 1 could lead to similar certification problems. (Bloomberg)