Russia looks into protective measures for seafood industry under WTO

April 11, 2012 16:26

The ongoing debate related to Russia's accession to WTO has mainly centered on the implications of the forthcoming reduction of import duties for the Russian seafood industry. But since the 1970s it is the technical barriers that have formed the core of "new protectionism" in the international trade, reports with reference to President of Russian Pollock Catchers Association German Zverev interviewed by Golden Horn.

Russia is no exception as during the accession process more than one half of negations time has been taken by debates on existing non-tariff restrictions, especially in the sphere of veterinary-sanitary control.

Import permits

Undisguised irritation of WTO negotiators has been caused by the procedure of receiving import permits for goods subject to veterinary (sanitary) control. Import permit is a kind of traffic lights regulating access to the Russian market. Representatives of WTO have required canceling this protective coat. However, Russian negotiators have managed to prove that import permits meet the WTO Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. Import permits let prohibit or restrict import in case of spread of dangerous diseases of animals in the products' country of origin. As there has been no success in cancellation of import permits, WTO negotiators have done their best to weaken their validity and achieved some success. After heated discussions Russia has assumed a liability not to refuse to issue import permit after a single violation: the reason for withdrawal of import permit should be systematic violations of the Russian veterinary legislation by the importer.

Vet certificates

After weakening validity of import permits, WTO negotiators have tried to undermine Russia's currently effective system of veterinary certificates. While import permit attests a foreign entity to import raw material for food production or food products to Russia in the course of the year, vet certificates are issued for each particular lot of imported goods. WTO negotiators have claimed that 40 single forms of vet certificates which have been approved by the Commission of the Customs Union (uniting Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan) do not meet the international standards, recommendations and guidelines. Moreover, they have cast doubt on Russia's right to form own requirements to product quality and safety. They think that it is enough to present a document of own format to import any products to the Russian market, and Russian certificates therefore mean discrimination of international trade, said Zverev.

However, the above arguments have met strong opposition from Russian negotiators: while importing food products to the country only single vet certificates of the Customs Union or bilateral vet certificates should be used. If you wish to trade with Russia you should be in compliance with the Russian requirements to product quality and safety and then get Russian vet certificate.

Vet control

Difficult negotiations have been caused by mechanism of vet control of product lots. WTO negotiators have cast doubt on procedure of conducting lab checks and sampling which is now practiced in Russia. They have taken it as a challenge to undermine confidence in the Russian system of laboratory control and to question results of checks disclosing insufficient quality of imported products. In the course of negotiations they have failed to confirm backwardness of Russian methods of food quality and safety checks.

List of Approved Exporters

WTO negotiators have also failed to cancel register of exporters to Russia. Such document is a convenient instrument for management of import shipments. Moreover, the Russian delegation has managed to ground existence of such regulation mechanism.

Any state where a food exporter is located has a right to ask Russian vets to check quality of its national system of veterinary and sanitary surveillance. If the audit confirms that the nation's control system is sufficient, the company is included into the exporters' register. If the audit has not been conducted (either finished) or it has acknowledged the national vet control system insufficient, the company may be listed as approved exporter after a direct check of the company. Delisting of the company from the register is possible only under its own application or on request of the state body of its location country. Thus, the possibility of the company's delisting from the register is practically equal to zero. Even temporary suspension of import is possible only in case of serious systematic failure of the official control system, which Russia has to confirm by strong evidence. But even in this case they specify period for rectification until which suspension of import shipments is not applied.

Relaxed controls

Despite above mentioned disagreement, negotiators on Russia's accession to WTO have succeeded in relaxing some instruments of import regulation which has been practiced in Russia.

According to the conditions of Russia's accession to WTO, now the Russian side has to specify term for correction of faults and only after that it has to warn on possible temporary suspension of import.

After pressing out from Russia one concession in the use of temporary import ban foreign partners have tried to force another one - to cancel the right for temporary import ban. For instance, the Norwegians who annually export about 150,000 MT of salmon to Russia have announced that Russian lab checks are biased and the system of control of imported food quality and safety is outdated and repressive.

Loosening of the Russian system of control of food quality and safety will evidently keep on going.

Russia has won the fight for conditions of its accession to WTO and now it will have to struggle for its status in WTO. As the country with 145 million strong population and a food market estimated at USD 200 billion it attracts big international producers of raw material for food production and food products. And they want to trade here under own conditions, concluded Zverev.

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