EU wins Russian pork ban ruling

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The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has declared as illegal the Russian import ban on live pigs, fresh pork and other pig products from the EU in light of international trade rules.

The ruling concerns a ban imposed by Russia in 2014 because of a limited number of cases of African Swine Fever (ASF) in areas in the EU close to the border with Belarus.

The panel acknowledged Russia’s refusal to accept imports of certain EU products and to adapt EU-Russia import certificates amounts to an EU-wide import ban.

This measure is not based on the relevant international standards and violates the rules of the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Agreement). Individual Russian bans on imports from Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia received the same criticism from the panel.

According to the European Commission, the ruling sends a strong signal to Russia, and all WTO Members, regarding their obligation to respect international standards, in particular, in this case, the principle of regionalisation (which would allow trade from individual areas of a country which are recognised as pest or disease-free, even if the health status in the rest of the country is not favourable) and the requirement to conduct a risk assessment based on scientific evidence. The panel underlined that WTO Members can exercise their right to determine appropriate levels of sanitary protection and to restrict imports accordingly on the basis of sanitary concerns only when this is done in line with WTO rules.

The European Commission points out measures taken by Russia against the EU have little to do with real sanitary or health risks.

For most of the products dealt with in this case, trade continues to be restricted by what Commission representatives believe to be a politically motivated ban imposed on EU agri-food products by Russia. However, the panel’s findings remind Russia about its international obligations and the fact that these cannot be arbitrarily ignored.

It has been confirmed that the EU Commission will continue to use WTO procedures to ensure that international trade rules are effectively respected. In fact, it is the view of EU policy makers that the WTO dispute settlement process remains the strongest option to tackle significant trade barriers and to thus increase legal certainty and predictability for trade.

The EU has also initiated WTO procedures on a number of trade barriers imposed by Russia, including recycling fees on cars, excess duties on paper and other products, and antidumping duties on light commercial vehicles. The WTO panel report on pigmeat exports to Russia can be appealed within 60 days. If no appeal is filed within that deadline, the report will be adopted and Russia will be bound to comply with the recommendation.