The European Commission responded cautiously, today, to a Polish request to lodge a formal complaint to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over a Russian ban on EU food products that has hit Poland particularly hard.
Poland’s economy ministry told Reuters it had sent the request to European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, who represents EU members in all WTO cases.
After a meeting with the Commissioner on 19 August, Poland’s Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki said that preliminary EU consultations were under way and that the first decisions on the lawsuit could be made as soon as 12 September.
The Russian food ban was imposed in response to Western economic sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and a pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine that Western capitals accuse Moscow of fomenting.
Total food exports to Russia were worth around $1.5 billion (€1.13 billion) last year.
But the commission is keeping its cards close to its chest regarding how it intends to comply with the Polish request.
“We received this letter from the Polish, we are now looking at it, we are looking at what is possible and what is not possible under WTO rules, before we take any decision,” said Commission spokesperson Chantal Hughes.
She added: “Of course, we will discuss with all relevant member states and stakeholders. When we’ve done that, we will make a decision. We’re not there yet, but we will make a decision in the coming weeks.”
According to Reuters, the European Commission has so far been cautious about taking the embargo case to the WTO, with lawyers in Brussels advising that doing so could escalate the conflict with Russia over Ukraine.
On 8 April, the Commission opened a WTO dispute against the Russian embargo on EU pork imposed earlier this year.
Russia has escalated an economic battle set off by the crisis in Ukraine with a ban on all food imports from the United States and on fruit and vegetables from the European Union, dropping any pretence these might be for food safety reasons.
The import ban, signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on 6 August, comes after he ordered retaliation for Western sanctions against Moscow. The decree halts or limits imports of agricultural products from countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia, ordering the government to come up with a list of imports to be banned for a year.
Russia is a major buyer of European fruit and vegetables but ranks 23rd among buyers of food from the United States, accounting for less than 1% of America's farm exports.