From Russia with love of zealous hygiene law

By Clare Cheney

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European union

Clare Cheney: Russia is not full of eastern promise for UK food exporters
Clare Cheney: Russia is not full of eastern promise for UK food exporters
Some food exporters who thought Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) on August 22 would open doors for exports will be sorely disappointed. That is because the Russians have announced that they will continue to require compliance with over- zealous hygiene rules seemingly designed to make it as hard as possible for hopeful exporters to that country.

Alarm bells should have rung when the Russians, with very little notice, told the European Commission (EC) that all premises currently approved for export to Russia would have to undergo an internal audit by local authorities in accordance with Russian standards. If Member States did not confirm compliance by September 1, the plants concerned would be removed from the list, as would those that did not comply.

This diktat came before anybody knew how soon Russia would confirm its accession.

For dairy exporters at least, the words of EU trade commissioner Karel de Gucht that accession would "offer plenty of business opportunities"​ have a hollow ring.

Hollow ring

The trouble is that although EU exports to Russia (euro 1.8bn) are smaller than those in the other direction (euro 199.5bn), most of the latter comprises oil and gas of combined value euro 154bn, upon which a number of EU states depend. Poor old dairy exports are very small fry in this grand scheme.

For years the Russians have insisted on doing their own audits of EU dairy and meat plants not already on the approved list for the Russian market.

Surveillance systems

According to the Federal Services for Veterinary and Phytosanitory Surveillance (Rosselkhoznadzor), because the surveillance systems in EU Member States have not been audited yet by Russian vets and it will take some time for this to happen, temporary measures will operate. These are to allow access for goods that were on the original list and have been successfully audited by local authorities. This may be a shorter list than before.

This is the gist of what the Rosselkhoznadzor seems to be saying in five sides of a closely typed press release within which there could be room for endless negotiations over understanding of the practical applications of the English translation of the words.

All I can see is that, in the UK, dairy premises on the original list are already being audited in order to stay on that list. Meanwhile, the hapless many not on the list will have to wait even longer to export to Russia unless the EC can persuade the Russians to abide by the rules that they signed up to. So much for free trade!

Clare Cheney is director general of the Provisional Trade Federation and a regular columnist for our sister title Food Manufacture.

Related topics: Legal, Hygiene, safety & cleaning

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