A World Trade Organization (WTO) panel declared the Russian import ban on live pigs, fresh pork and other pig products from the EU as well as the individual ban on several countries including Estonia to be illegal in light of international trade rules.
The panel acknowledged that Russia's refusal to accept imports of certain EU products and to adapt EU-Russia import certificates accordingly amounted to an EU-wide import ban. This measure was not based on the relevant international standards and violates the rules of the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, the European Commission said in a press release.
Individual Russian bans on imports from Poland, Lithuania and Estonia received the same criticism from the panel.
The Commission stated that 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 regionalization, which would allow trade from individual areas of a country which are recognized as pest or disease-free, even if the health status in the rest of the country was unfavorable — and the requirement to conduct a risk assessment based on scientific evidence.
The panel underlined 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 done in line with WTO rules.
The panel report can be appealed within 60 days. If no appeal is filed prior to that deadline, the report will be adopted and Russia will be bound to comply with the recommendation.
For most of the products involved in this case, trade continues to be restricted by a politically motivated ban imposed on EU agricultural products by Russia in August 2014. Nevertheless, the panel's findings were of systemic importance, as they remind Russia about its international obligations and the fact that these cannot be arbitrarily ignored.
Russia closed its market to pork from the EU in January 2014, citing cases of African swine fever (ASF) detected in wild boars at the Lithuanian and Polish borders with Belarus and ignoring the measures that the EU and its member states imposed to combat the disease and contain the spread of the virus.
The import ban has caused significant damage to EU pig producers, since in 2013 a total of 1.4 billion euros' worth of pork, accounting for a quarter of the EU's total pork exports, was exported to Russia.
The EU requested that the WTO in Geneva rule over the dispute, finding that a limited number of ASF cases in certain areas of individual member states cannot serve as grounds for banning the import of pork from the entirety of the 28-state EU.
Editor: Editor: Aili Sarapik