A World Trade Organisation (WTO) panel has declared that the import ban on EU live pigs, fresh pork and other pig products imposed by Russia in early 2014 is against international trade rules.
The WTO-declared illegal ban was imposed over what the UE said was a limited number of cases of African swine fever (ASF) in areas in the EU close to the border with Belarus.
The panel said the EU-wide import ban was not based on the relevant international standards and violates the rules of the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement). Individual Russian bans on imports from Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia received the same criticism from the panel.
"The ruling sends a strong signal to Russia, and all WTO members, as regards 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 European Commission said in a press release.
The panel stressed that WTO members can exercise their right to determine their 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 EC pointed out that the EU has one of the world's most efficient animal health and food safety systems, including high detection levels and stringent risk management rules. "Today's (August 19) ruling confirms that the measures taken by Russia against the EU have little to do with any real sanitary or health risks. EU products are safe and there is thus no need for any country to maintain unjustified import restrictions", it said.
Most of the products dealt with in this case, however, continues to be restricted in connection with a politically motivated ban imposed on EU agri-food products by Russia in August 2014. "Nevertheless, the panel's findings are of systemic importance, since they remind Russia about its international obligations and the fact that these cannot be arbitrarily ignored", the EC said.
The EC said EU will continue to use WTO procedures to ensure that international trade rules are respected.
The panel ruling can be appealed within 60 days. If no appeal is filed within that deadline, Russia will be bound to comply with the WTO recommendations.