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28/08/2016

Poland wants EU to complain to WTO over Russian embargo

Social Europe & Jobs

Poland wants EU to complain to WTO over Russian embargo

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht [EC]

Poland has asked the European Commission to send a formal complaint to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over the Russian ban on imported EU food products that has hit Poland particularly hard, the Polish Economy Ministry said on Tuesday (19 August).

So far the Commission been cautious about taking the embargo case to the WTO, with lawyers in Brussels advising it could escalate a trade conflict with Russia over Ukraine.

On 7 August, Russia banned the import of EU food products, including fruit and vegetables from Poland. Poland’s total food exports to Russia are worth around €1.13 billion per year. As the EU’s second biggest apple producer, Poland is now stuck with some 700,000 tonnes of the fruit it usually sells to Russia.

The 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, which Western capitals accuse Moscow of fomenting.

Poland’s economy ministry told the news agency 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 De Gucht on Tuesday, Poland’s Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki said that preliminary EU consultations were currently under way and that first decisions on the lawsuit could be made as soon as September 12.

“The United States’, Australia’s and Canada’s opinion will also be important,” Sawicki was quoted as saying by Polish state news agency PAP. “I believe Deputy Prime Minister (Janusz) Piechoci?ski will engage in talks with those countries.”

The WTO, should it rule in favour of any Commission complaint, could fine Russia for violating regulations on open markets. But Sawicki said Russia was not responding to pressure from the EU or the US.

The EU argues its sanctions have been imposed in defence of Ukraine’s sovereignty. Russia argues it is playing no role in arming, advising or promoting rebellion in eastern Ukraine.

On 8 April, the European Commission opened a WTO dispute against the Russian embargo on EU pork imposed earlier this year.

Background

The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.

Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.

Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than ten towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April. On 11 May pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum in Donetsk and Luhansk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate.

The situation has worsened since then. In July, EU resolve to punish Russia strengthened after the downing in Ukraine earlier this month of a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, killing all 298 people on board. 194 of the passengers were from the Netherlands.

Western leaders say pro-Russian rebels almost certainly shot the airliner down by mistake with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile. Moscow has blamed Kyiv for the tragedy.

Timeline

  • 23 Aug.: Angela Merkel to visit Kyiv;
  • 26 Aug.:  Poroshenko to attend Customs Union summit in Minsk;
  • 29 Aug.: EU leaders hold summit in Brussels;
  • 30 Aug.: Poroshenko to meet with EU leaders in Brussels;
  • 4-5 Sept.: Poroshenko to attend NATO summit in Cardiff.