EU-25 backs Poland in beef row with Russia

Russian efforts to sign bilateral deals with large meat exporters such as Germany and Ireland have met with resistance at the Brussels EU summit.

Russia has threatened to extend a year-old Russian ban on Polish beef to the entire EU-25 from January amid concerns over health standards of Bulgarian and Romanian beef. The ban led Poland to veto the signing of a wide-ranging EU-Russia partnership and co-operation agreement (PCA) on 24 November (EURACTIV 27 November).

A Russian ban on imports of EU meat, dairy and fish products would cost an estimated €1.7 billion in lost trade.

EU states have so-far refrained from signing any bilateral deals that would bypass the European Commission, which has responsibility for negotiating EU trade agreements.

At the EU summit on 14 December in Brussels, Polish President Lech Kaczynski raised hopes that an agreement was imminent: “There was even thinking that the agreement could be reached today but now it’s turning out it will take a few more days,” he said.

Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, chairing the Brussels summit, emphasised the importance of a united stance: “I think that in this kind of question we have to act like a group,” he said. “I am expecting member states to support each other.”

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern added: “This is a European matter. The Commission will carry out the negotiations and deal directly with the Russians.”

The head of Russia’s animal and plant health watchdog said that his agency had sent proposals to eight EU major meat exporter countries on bilateral trade agreements but confirmed that no deals had been signed. However, he warned: “If there are delays on meat imports from 1 January, it won’t be our fault.”

Meanwhile, the Commission said that it would view any bilateral agreement with Russia as illegal: “This is something that goes to the heart of our commercial policy and there will be a single European approach to it,” said Peter Power, a spokesman for Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson.

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