At ‘Veggie Summit,’ Russia Agrees To Rescind EU Ban

MOSCOW — After a tense EU-Russia summit in Nizhny Novgorod, President Dmitry Medvedev has said Russia will lift its ban on EU vegetables once Brussels hands over certificates vouching for their safety.

Russia imposed the ban last week after the outbreak of a rare strain of E.coli bacteria that has killed some 30 people in Europe and infected another 2,600, mainly in Germany.

Russia had been adamant that it would not lift its ban which the EU branded “disproportionate” until the source of the outbreak is identified, but agreed at the June 10 meeting that imports could resume.

Russia’s vegetable ban stole the show at the summit held behind closed doors, even as German health officials late into the talks finally identified the source of the deadly strain of E.Coli as locally grown bean sprouts.

Falsely accused? A German biologist dissects a cucumber in Rostock, northeastern Germany, on May 30 in the continuing effort to find the source of the outbreak.

Speaking to journalists after the talks, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the two sides’ ” teams agreed that the ban on vegetables from the European Union will be lifted, a system of certification of vegetable safety by the European Commission will be put in place without any delay, and details of the certification will be finalized as soon as possible between the Russian Federation and the European Commission services.”

Barroso said the EU would hand over the certificates “today or tomorrow.”

Filling In The Details

The Russian president stopped short of putting a time frame on lifting the ban, but confirmed the agreement.

“We discussed a mechanism to resume supplies of European vegetables to the Russian market,” Medvedev said. “We are ready to resume shipments under guarantees from the EU authorities.”

In an apparent reference to Gennady Onishchenko, Russia’s top health official, who has gained notoriety for imposing trade bans that appear colored by politics, Medvedev said Russia’s top experts are working out the mechanism.

“Specialists from the Russian Federation — you know them very well, these people are well known in Russia, for known reasons — and the European Union will agree as soon as possible on a certification system that ensures the safety of products brought to the Russian market,” Medvedev said.

Meanwhile, European Council President Herman van Rompuy insisted talks had been “substantive” in other areas as they wrapped up the summit in the central Russian city on the Volga River.

Van Rompuy said talks affirmed that Russia and the European Union have “shared interests” in foreign affairs.

He said both sides are committed to the Middle East process, are “aligned” on Libya and believe that “[Libyan President Muammar] Qaddafi must go.” They also discussed the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdniester, he said.

WHO And When

The two sides also discussed easing visa restrictions for Russians traveling to the 27-member EU bloc and Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the latter of which Medvedev said could happen by the end of the year.

“I have called on our EU partners to complete the talks within a month so that we can move ahead to the stage of signing the documents on Russia’s accession to the WTO by the end of the year,” Medvedev said.

After 18 years of accession talks, Russia’s is by far the largest world economy outside the global trade club. At the last EU-Russia Summit in December 2010, the two sides also agreed to remove barriers to Russia’s accession.

Ahead of the summit at the height of the spat over Moscow’s ban, Brussels accused Russia of violating the terms for entering the world trade club, prompting Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to retort that Russia would not “poison” its people for the sake of entering the WTO.

written by Tom Balmforth in Moscow and central newsroom staff in Prague; with additional wire reporting

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