Russia complains to EU about food smuggling efforts

Bulldozer in Belgorod, Russia, destroys illegally imported food [Reuters]

Russian officials complained on Monday (26 October) in Brussels of massive imports of EU foodstuffs to Russia, using forged documents, by “transnational criminal groups” to circumvent sanctions.

EU and Russian analysts met yesterday at the request of the Russian Federation to discuss Russian concerns with regard to alleged fraudulent imports of food products from the EU into Russia.

This is taking place in the context of EU sanctions against Russia, in response to the Ukraine crisis, and counter-sanctions from Russia, which prohibited imports of meat, fish, dairy products, fruit and vegetables from the EU and some other countries, including Australia, Canada, Norway and the USA.

According to the European Commission, the technical discussions have focused on the potential interaction between the veterinary authorities of the EU and Russia, as well as on specific Russian requests for the EU to provide mutual administrative assistance in customs matters.

“The EU side took note of the Russian concerns,” a Commission representative commented.

Conversely, the Russian side was much more vocal. The Russian Mission to the EU organized a press conference, in which Russian analysts gave various examples of fraud, pointing out the slow response of the EU services in addressing the issues. They also asked for access to EU electronic databases to be able to identify fraud.

>>Read: Russia to extend ban on Western food imports until early 2016

Yeugeny Nepoklonov, Deputy Head of the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance (Rosselkhoznadzor), cited 540 tons of frozen salmon imported to Russia, according to documentation, from Iceland. As a non-EU country, Iceland is not covered by the Russian counter-sanctions, and its trade with Russia is not hampered. Similarly, 7,500 tons of pork meat have been imported originating, according to documents, in Switzerland.

In one case, pork imports had been labelled as originating from Brazil and transiting through the EU to Russia, which the Russian authorities found suspect, as pork meat from Brazil is not allowed in the EU, even in transit.

The Russian authorities investigated the suspect shipments, but found the response of the EU side very slow. In the case of the 7,500 tons of pork meat, Nepoklonov said that the investigation has already lasted one full year, beginning in October 2014, and that it was not over yet.

What the Russian side found, he said, was that the food shipments get certified in any EU country, the information being entered into an electronic database, from where the EU custom officers can see all the details. But 100 metres further, on the Belarus border, the transporter shows documents on paper, completely different from those that have been entered into the database.

>>Read: EU tries to limit damage from Russian food embargo

Nepokolonov said that when he asked the Lithuanian side to present him with the genuine information, he was told that those issues were of the competence of the European Commission, and that Lithuania could not give him any information.

“Up to now, we haven’t received an answer. The Commission tells us that they will ask the respective country, and only after they receive their answer they would be able to inform us,” he said.

Asked by EURACTIV to identify the EU countries from where most of the fraud originated, Nepoklonov said this was not about countries, but about “transnational criminal groups”.

Ruslan Davydov, Deputy Head of the Federal Customs Service, said that the Russian message was not that the country is unable to deal with fraud. He said that Russia had prevented 30,000 tons of fraudulent foodstuffs from entry, and that several dozens of criminal court cases, and several hundred administrative cases had been initiated. 

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