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European Commission

Karel De Gucht

European Trade Commissioner

On Russia's trade restrictions on Lithuanian goods

European Parliament Plenary/ Strasbourg

8 October 2013

Mr Chairman/Madam Chair, Honorable Members,

The Commission has been informed by the Lithuanian authorities that Russia's customs restrictions on Lithuanian goods have been applied at customs clearance points by the Russian authorities since 12 September 2013.

Any such broad, trade-disruptive measures, not tightly linked to objective specific risks, are inappropriate and discriminatory, and their WTO consistency would appear questionable.

On 18 September, together with my colleague Algirdas Semeta, I addressed a letter to Russia's Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev and the Head of the Federal Customs Service Andrei Belyaninov. We emphasized that the measures that have now been in place since 12 September, are a “cause of very considerable concern from an economic and from a legal point of view”. We asked for clarification on the reasoning of the measures and repeated the EU’s strong appeal to the Russian authorities to immediately lift these restrictions.

To date, the Russian authorities have not provided clarification as to the reasoning of these tightened customs controls.

We are now checking the compatibility of these measures with the World Trade Organisation rules and in particular Article XI of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. For this, some further information about actual customs clearance controls would need to be provided by the Lithuanian authorities. It would also be important to receive any information available to Lithuanian authorities on the alleged justification for the measures.

In the meantime, this issue will be put by the EU on the agenda on the next WTO Council for Trade in Goods, which takes place on 18 October in Geneva, as a potential violation of the WTO rules. It will also be discussed before that at technical level between the European Commission and Russian counterparts.

Another important element to tackle this measure would be to look at its political aspect and react consequently.

With respect to the more recent restrictions on Lithuanian dairy products, the Commission has not been informed of the nature of the sanitary concerns expressed by the Russian authorities regarding dairy products from Lithuania.

The Commission has confidence in the safety of Lithuanian dairy products.

The EU food safety system ensures a high level of consumer protection. This food safety framework notably includes regular audits in Member States by Commission inspection services as well as a rapid alert system in order to ensure appropriate action in case a specific product would have been found unsafe.

There are a number of differences between Russian and EU sanitary standards. In certain cases, the EU believes that certain Russian standards are unnecessarily strict and go beyond what is scientifically necessary to safeguard the protection of consumers.

This is why the Commission calls on the Russian authorities for proportionate action following any possible detection of deviation from Russian sanitary standards by dairy products from Lithuania.

In accordance with Russia’s WTO commitments, any restriction based on sanitary grounds must be justified by the risk at stake, and the measure taken must be proportionate to the level of risk identified.

Russian sanitary and phytosanitary restrictions towards the EU and our Member States have been on the rise for more than one year.

The Commission will continue to defend EU exporters and to insist that Russia lives up to the commitments it took when acceding to the World Trade Organisation. Based on further information and developments, I will not hesitate to recommend appropriate action to the College on the basis of the relevant provisions of WTO's General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Thank you for your attention.

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