UPDATE 1-Russia plays down threats of salmon ban from Norway

Tue Dec 17, 2013 9:57am EST

(Adds reaction from Norway, context, farmers, exports levels)

MOSCOW/OSLO Dec 17 (Reuters) - Russia may only ban salmon imports from Norwegian farms which it has not inspected, Russia's Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Service (VPSS) said, playing down previous comment which indicated it could ban all Norwegian salmon imports.

VPSS was considering banning all salmon imports from Norway, the world's largest exporter of the fish, as Russian inspectors were not let into some farms, VPSS said last week.

Russia is one of biggest markets for Norway salmon. In 2012 Norwegian companies exported salmon, trout and pelagic fish to Russia worth 5.5 billion crowns ($900 million), but sales could decline by 20 percent this year because of higher prices, according to Norwegian authorities.

Major farmers include Marine Harvest, the world's biggest fish farmer, Cermaq and Salmar.

Norwegian authorities previously said Russian inspectors had been welcomed and that difficulties arose because they changed their plans "at the last minute".

"Restrictions may be imposed in respect of farms which did not let our inspectors in," Alexei Alekseenko, spokesman for VPSS, told Reuters. Limits may be imposed from Jan. 1, he added. He declined to explain the reason for plan's change.

Norway is keen to negotiate with Russia to find a mutually beneficial solution, said Bjoern Roethe Knudsen, the official in charge of relations between Norway and Russia at the Norwegian Food Authority.

"For salmon and trout we have had a system which was established in 2006 when Russia introduced a general import ban because it claimed there were too many heavy metals in the fish," Roethe Knudsen said.

Since then Russian authorities have inspected salmon and trout farms in Norway and given approval for export on this basis.

"As we understand from Russian authorities this system will continue", Roethe Knudsen said.

(Reporting by Polina Devitt and Ole Petter Skonnord; Editing by Megan Davies and Louise Heavens)

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