Russians Warn Of Food Import Restrictions

KIEV, Ukraine -- Russia warned it will probably restrict imports of agricultural commodities from Ukraine after Kiev indicated it will move towards reforming its food control agency in line with the European Union standards.

Gennady Onishchenko

The warning, made by the chief of the Russian state consumer protection agency, Gennady Onishchenko, on Sunday comes weeks after Ukraine and the European Union had successfully completed talks over the free trade agreement.

“A serious problem has emerged,” Onishchenko told Interfax on Sunday.

“Beginning in May, we will very seriously strengthen supervision [of imports from Uktraine] at the border.”

Onishcheko complained that Ukraine had decided to allow the State Veterinary Service, mostly known from handling and controlling outbreaks of diseases in livestock among other tasks, has been also appointed to supervise quality and safety of food for people across the country.

“This de-facto means that a citizen of Ukraine has been officially defined as an animal,” Onishchenko said, arguing that those are doctors that must control quality of food.

“Food accounts for 70% of health problems.”

Ukraine argued that expanding the duties of the State Veterinary Service was part of the reform that had been aimed at bringing the country closer to EU regulations.

“The creation of the single competent organ on the basis of the State Veterinary Service is anticipated by the reform of the food sector,” Viktor Korzh, a lawmaker from the governing Regions Party and a deputy head of the committee on healthcare in Parliament, said.

“The statement [Onishchenko] is a real provocation.”

Korzh said the expanded state service will have other staffers that will be recruited from healthcare agencies that will effectively supervise the food industry.

“The service will get specialists from other agencies.”

Mykhaylo Chechetov, another pro-government lawmaker, said that Onishchenko’s controversial view is not shared by the president of Russia and by the prime minister of Russia.

“I don’t think that the warning from the official is shared by Russia’s authorities – the president and the prime minister,” Chechetov said.

“So, let’s not put the stupidity of one person into the ranks of the state policy.”

The developments come less than three months that Ukraine and six other countries of the former Soviet Union signed a free trade agreement with Russia.

The agreement, however, excludes three most sensitive commodities for Ukraine, including sugar, crude oil and natural gas, allowing Russia to restrict trade in these commodities.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said recently that Russia had promised at some point to lift the restrictions on trade with oil and gas, but gave no other details.

Ukraine has last year refused to joint the Customs Union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, a deep level of integration that could have derailed free trade talks with the European Union.

In July 2011 Russia imposed restrictions on imports of meat and dairy products from Ukraine, warning that its steel sector may follow the suit.

Source: Ukrainian Journal