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Russia, EU forge difficult meat dialogue
18/06/07
MOSCOW. (Alexei Alekseyenko for RIA Novosti) -

Russia is dealing with a
handful of problems related to the import of low quality and even unsafe
meat and meat products.

The harsh reactions of Russian veterinary watchdogs, which slapped bans on
meat imports from specific foreign factories, caused a lot of raised
eyebrows and hard feelings in the West. Suffice it to recall the "Polish
meat" controversy, which lasted for over a year, or the recent statement by
the Brazilian government that Russia's moves to block Brazilian meat imports
are "inadmissible." Still, even in this complicated context, Moscow insists
on a constructive dialogue because ultimatums can only harm mutual trade.

With this in mind, Moscow hosted a two-day meeting of experts from the
Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Oversight, Russian food
quality watchdog, and EU Health and Consumer Protection Directorate General.
The participants focused on increasing control over animal products
circulation.

Stanislav Zakharov, deputy head of the veterinary department at the Federal
Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Oversight, told Paul Van Geldorp,
who headed the EU delegation, that the flow of illegal and low quality
foodstuffs was not subsiding despite the on-going intensive bilateral
contacts on various issues, including export fraud. The number of inspected
merchandise returns is growing as well.

A new alarming trend has emerged in Europe, where entry documents for meat
and meat products are being tampered with illegally. For example, exporters
can forge certificates from the producing country, and sometimes the
product's destination is changed.

Europe's largest seaports, Hamburg and Rotterdam, have turned into
unregulated markets, where products arriving from third countries and
subject to inspection are being traded, including those banned from
marketing in the EU countries. Sometimes doubtful products are reloaded in
neutral waters, which further complicates the situation.

The Russian side presented evidence of such crimes. For example, several
containers arriving by sea from Hamburg and Rotterdam have been arrested in
St. Petersburg this year. The certificates said there were frozen vegetables
inside, but in fact they also contained meat. Russian border guards have
prevented several successive attempts to smuggle Chinese pork (over 200
containers in 2005 and 2006) into Russia through Europe. Chinese meat is not
allowed in Russia.

Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Oversight inspectors have
recently encountered a new type of fraud, as they arrested seven containers
of frozen pork of shady origin arriving from Rotterdam and labeled as
"frozen green peas" from Poland.

It appears there are no laws to fight this evil in Europe. Russia, too, is
hostage to the existing European legislation. The law prohibits the port
authorities in Hamburg and Rotterdam to restrict export operations or track
down shady transactions involving animal products.

EU experts suggested shyly that the Russian Customs Service might find it
useful if customs offices in European ports notified it of all cargoes bound
for Russia. But Russian border guards would probably prefer to be informed
about reloading and change of destination papers for those cargoes. The
Europeans invited their Russian colleagues to visit one of the European
ports to study the situation on site.

As a result of the meeting, the EU delegation finally admitted that the
existing control system failed to check the inflow of counterfeit foodstuffs
into Russia. They also agreed that the 18 types of Russian veterinary
certificates with extra-high counterfeit protection helped prevent the
forgery of entry documents. The sides agreed to further coordinate and
introduce initial draft veterinary certificates for various types of meat
products.

They also discussed violations occurring in live cattle trade. An earlier
Russia-EU agreement stipulates that cattle can be only imported by companies
inspected by both Russian and local veterinary services. One such inspection
is underway in Sweden, and two more are planned in Hungary and Latvia. The
EU representatives asked their Russian colleagues to conduct veterinary
inspections in Britain, Austria and Ireland as soon as possible.

The EU has also decided to hold a joint veterinary inspection with Russian
experts in Poland. The EU Directorate General will set the date and notify
the Russian side later.

The EU representatives informed the Russian side of their work to harmonize
the European law on marketing products subject to inspection with the
legislation of Switzerland, which is not a European community member.

The Russian participants discussed the use of TRACES (European Trade Control
and Expert System) with Didier Carton, administrator of the EU Health and
Consumer Protection Directorate General. They focused on practical aspects
of Russian specialists' using TRACES, which helps monitor the flows of such
cargoes crossing Europe on their way to Russia.

It is important that Russia is planning to start introducing international
norms and standards for ensuring food safety this month. Russia's sanitary,
veterinary and phytosanitary laws will be harmonized with international
norms within the next 30 months, including the WTO regulations and the
Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement. A number of Russia's key sanitary labs
will be re-equipped and their personnel retrained.

The Russian participants in the meeting said the dialogue was difficult but
extremely useful. Russia and Europe cannot effectively fight fraud in
international meat trade unless they take steps to meet each other halfway.

Alexei Alekseyenko is official spokesman for the Federal Service for
Veterinary and Phytosanitary Oversight.