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Ahead of the EU-Russia summit, which opens today in Nizhny Novgorod (see 'Background'), Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov said the issue of what he termed 'EU coli' would "not pass without attention".
Last week, Russia banned imports of fresh vegetables from the EU, accusing Brussels of sowing chaos by failing to provide information about the E.coli outbreak. The European Commission called the Russian ban on EU vegetables "disproportionate" and urged "the immediate withdrawal of the measure". EU countries exported €594 million worth of vegetables to Russia last year.
Chizhov stated that before any lifting of the Russian ban, "there should be a clear picture of what it was and how it appeared. Perhaps at some point it will be proven that the source is limited geographically". He said he was "confident" that the EU would be able to do this.
He stressed that the Russian ban was not meant to be "eternal". Specifically, even if E. coli outbreaks were to persist in parts of Europe, he said that if "[certain] countries and the EU health authorities produce credible guarantees that, for example, Spanish cucumbers are OK, I wouldn't exclude that the ban could be reduced and regionalised".
However, the Commission rejected the approach of "regionalising" the contamination outbreak. The EU "is a whole", a Commission spokesperson insisted today (9 June).
'Traditional' issues and WTO accession
Ambassador Chizhov noted that many items at today's summit were "traditional". These include global issues such as the world's economic recovery and climate change, as well as bilateral EU-Russia issues such as the negotiation of a new EU-Russia basic treaty, and progress towards a visa-free travel regime between the EU and Russia.
Russia's ongoing and longstanding negotiations to join the World Trade Organisation will also be discussed. One of the major stumbling blocks is Russia's demand to be granted a derogation on WTO rules for a number of years in order to protect its car industry.
The WTO negotiations, which appear near conclusion, would in the medium term open up the possibility of an EU-Russia customs union. Russian officials at last month's European Business Summit voiced support for such an outcome.