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Russia retreats from threat to ban EU meat imports

Russia backed off from a threat to ban meat imports from the European Union starting January 1, averting a trade fight.

Russia had threatened to prohibit shipments of beef, pork and poultry from the EU when Bulgaria and Romania join the bloc on January 1 because of food safety concerns. Russia and the EU are working on a memorandum to ensure that banned products from the two countries won't enter Russia from a third nation next year, said Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev. „From January 1, deliveries of products from the EU to Russia that are permitted will continue normally,” he told journalists in Moscow after talks with EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou. The European health chief called today's agreement a „positive signal for Russia and EU producers.” Russia bought €723 million ($952 million) of meat from the 25-nation EU last year. The planned ban worsened tensions created by a Russian blockade of meat and vegetables from Poland. The Polish government has vetoed trade talks between the EU and Russia to protest the year-old ban, which the Russian government imposed amid claims that Polish producers were violating hygiene laws and were involved in smuggling. Russia and the union had been scheduled to start talks November 24 to replace an accord that expires next year.

Yesterday, Polish Premier Jaroslaw Kaczynski said his government would be open to suspending the veto provided Russia acknowledges Poland's „basic interests.” Kaczynski, speaking on public radio Jedynka, didn't elaborate. The agreement between Kyprianou and Gordeyev on meat, to be signed on January 18, doesn't resolve the dispute between Russia and Poland. „Other issues in the EU's relations with Russia will be taken up by the commission in the near future,” Philip Tod, Kyprianou's spokesman, said by telephone from Brussels. „We hope this agreement between the EU and Russia will create a positive climate and a climate of confidence that will help resolve other issues, including the ban on Polish imports.” Earlier this month, Russia proposed signing individual agreements with EU countries that export meat, insisting that the European Commission wouldn't be able to guarantee safe exports following the accession of Romania and Bulgaria. The commission, the EU's executive, said such accords weren't allowed because the bloc coordinates policy in trade matters. (Bloomberg)