EU attacks "unjustified" Russian ban on German meat imports

Thu Feb 14, 2013 9:28am EST

* Russia says ban for safety reasons, but is not specific

* Comes against background of frosty Moscow-Berlin relations

* Not related to European horsemeat scandal

By Tom Miles

GENEVA, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Russia's ban on imports of chilled German meat is unjustified and disproportionate and must be reversed immediately, the European Union said, according to a filing at the WTO seen by Reuters on Thursday.

Russia has said the ban, which took effect on Feb. 4, was intended "to secure safety of imported chilled pork, beef and poultry from Germany to Russia". It is not related to the European horsemeat scandal.

Justifying its plan to impose emergency import restrictions to the WTO - World Trade Organization - last month, Russia simply stated: "There is no proper control by the veterinary service of Germany," without elaborating.

The ban came against a background of frosty relations between Moscow and Berlin, which has called for greater democracy in Russia and voiced concern over the country's human rights record.

"The European Union strongly disputes the basis for this notification (by Russia)," the EU said in the filing, which was sent to the WTO on Feb. 8 and circulated to the global trade body's members on Feb. 13.

It said that all food product exports from the bloc had to comply with EU safety standards as well as the requirements of importers, as long as they met international standards.

"The European Union and its member states have made all reasonable efforts to comply with the requirements of the Customs Union (of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan) and the Russian Federation," it said.

"The European Union highlights its disappointment therefore, that the measures announced by the Russian Federation are not justified on technical nor legal grounds, and are disproportionate."

Russia's rules on meat imports have also come under fire from the United States, which earlier this week demanded the lifting of a ban on U.S. meat products, which Russia imposed because of the use of ractopamine, a growth stimulant.

Russia joined the WTO last August and immediately became embroiled in arguments about access to its market in several areas, including cars, alcohol and wood, as well as meat. But Russia is equally upset over EU rules on energy.

Although no formal trade disputes have been launched yet, EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht warned in December that if Russia continued in the same vein "we will see each other back in Geneva", a clear reference to WTO litigation.

The two sides failed to clear the air at a subsequent summit in Brussels at which Russian President Vladimir Putin declared EU energy rules to be "uncivilised". (Editing by Pravin Char)