Putin vows to protect Russia from EU poisoning

June 3, 2011

, MOSCOW, June 3 – Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday warned he would not allow Russians to get poisoned for the sake of the WTO, after the EU said Russia\’s ban on European vegetables was at odds with its bid to join the trade body.

Fernando Valenzuela, the head of the EU delegation to Russia, urged Moscow to lift the ban on EU vegetable imports imposed in the wake of a bacteria outbreak in Germany and said the ban was "not compliant" with its WTO bid.

"Russia wants (to join) and we hope will actually join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in the near future," he told a news conference in Moscow.

"One of the aspects of joining the WTO are a number of regulations… and certainly the ban that has been decided by the sanitary authorities of Russia is not compliant with those rules.

"It is a bit surprising that at the time you are going to join an organisation, you are taking measures that go in the opposite direction," he added.

Valenzuela said "we have to look at this situation positively" and expressed "hope it will be solved within a few days … (and) consequently it should not have any incidence in the WTO negotiations."

Putin said he would check the validity of Russia\’s ban on EU vegetables but expressed bewilderment at the idea that the move was against the spirit of WTO membership.

"I do not know what spirit this contradicts," Putin said in comments broadcast by state television. "Cucumbers that make people die really smell bad."

"People really are dying because of eating these products and we cannot let our people (Russians) get poisoned for the sake of some kind of spirit," he added.

He said that Russia was awaiting further information from the European Commission, in particular about the source of the infection.

Russia, which opened negotiations to join the WTO in 1993, is the largest economy to remain outside the Geneva-based body but is hoping to finally complete talks on its accession this year.

Moscow has complained it has had to negotiate longer than any other country to join the WTO and that its accession process has been unnecessarily politicised.

Valenzuela said that while as a non-WTO member Russia currently had no legal obligation to obey the body\’s rules, it should already be implementing its regulations.

"I think the logic of it is that Russia should… be already implementing these rules in full," he said.

"It is probably not the most logical thing to wait to the very last day to do that," he noted.

The ban was announced by the Russian consumer protection watchdog chief Gennady Onishchenko, who has already angered several of Russia\’s trade partners by issuing controversial bans on certain imports.

"Thank goodness that Russia is not a member of the WTO!" the liberal business daily Vedomisti wrote in a hugely sarcastic editorial. "The fact we are not a member is saving us from ghastly European vegetables."

"How lucky we are to live in Russia where our chief doctor (Onishchenko) more than once saved our lives from Moldovan and Georgian wine, Finnish baby food and Belarussian milk," it added with heavy irony, referring to past bans.

The outbreak of E. coli poisoning that has killed at least 18 people appears to be stabilising, a senior doctor in the German city of Hamburg, the epicentre of the outbreak, said Friday.

In April Putin defiantly proclaimed that Russia would not obey any WTO rules until it was admitted, complaining it was spending money to comply but getting nothing in return.

Russia\’s talks to join the WTO have already hit trouble as Georgia, with whom it fought a war in 2008, continues to insist that it could use its right as a WTO member to veto Russian entry.

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