STC Number - 390

The Russian Federation's import restrictions on processed fishery products from Estonia and Latvia

Maintained by: Russian Federation
Raised by: European Union
Supported by:
First date raised: July 2015 G/SPS/R/79, paras. 3.4 - 3.6
Dates subsequently raised: October 2015 (G/SPS/R/81, paras. 3.27 - 3.29)
March 2016 (G/SPS/R/82, paras. 3.38 - 3.40)
June 2016 (G/SPS/R/83, paras. 4.42 - 4.43)
October 2016 (G/SPS/R/84, paras. 3.31 - 3.32 )
March 2017 (G/SPS/R/86, paras. 3.21 - 3.24)
July 2017 (G/SPS/R/87, paras. 4.33 - 4.34)
November 2017 (G/SPS/R/88, paras. 3.45 - 3.46)
March 2018 (G/SPS/R/90, paras. 3.22-3.23)
July 2018 (G/SPS/R/92/Rev.1, paras. 4.59-4.61)
November 2018 (G/SPS/R/93, 3.56-3.57)
March 2019 (G/SPS/R/94, paras. 3.93-3.94)
July 2019 (G/SPS/R/95, paras. 4.79-4.80)
Number of times subsequently raised: 12
Relevant documents: Raised orally
Products covered: 03 Fish and crustaceans, molluscs and other aquatic invertebrates

Fishery products
Primary subject keyword: Food safety
Keywords: Control, Inspection and Approval Procedures; Food safety; Human health; Risk assessment
Status: Not reported
Solution:
Date reported as resolved:

Extracts from SPS Committee meeting summary reports

In July 2015, the European Union indicated that, as of 4 June, the Russian Federation introduced a ban on imports of all fishery products from Estonia and Latvia, allegedly due to deficiencies detected during recent inspections. The European Union stated that the measure had been notified very late, was inconsistent with the SPS Agreement and taken in violation of Russia's WTO Accession commitments which included not to suspend exports from groups of establishments without having provided first the technical information and scientific justification of the risks detected, and not to take such measures before the expiry of the timeframe provided for the adoption of corrective measures. Indeed, Russia had not provided evidence of immediate risk to consumers caused by deficiencies in the control systems of Estonia and Latvia, which had been regularly inspected by the Russian Federation in recent years without having identified any major problems. The measures were clearly more trade restrictive than necessary and the ban had been announced before the official reports of the inspections were provided to the competent authorities of Latvia or Estonia. The European Union expressed its willingness to cooperate with the Russian Federation to address their concerns but requested the Russian Federation to lift the ban, to bring its measures in line with international standards, and to respect its WTO obligations.

The Russian Federation replied that conclusions by Russian experts about deficiencies in the work of the Latvian and Estonian competent authorities overlapped with the results of previous investigations by the European Union, and the presence of a risk was also confirmed by the notifications of the EU Commission in the rapid alert system. Russia stressed the importance and urgency of the report made by the European Union about the safety of food products. An inspection in 2013 had showed that Latvia and Estonia had not taken measures to withdraw unsafe products from the market. According to Russia, the European Union had failed to take necessary measures in relation to establishments where violations were detected and to inform its trade partners. Indeed, between 2013 and July 2015, Russian inspections had revealed more than 2,000 cases of unreliable certification, and yet, no effective measures had been taken against the violators. The Russian Federation had concluded that the guarantees given by the European Union were not reliable. As a result, Russia was forced to impose temporary restrictions, as stated in official letters to the European Union. The measures were not bans, but temporary restrictions, and complied with the SPS Agreement, which allowed Members to adopt measures to protect human, animal or plant health.

The European Union clarified that they did not dispute Russia's right to take SPS measures, but expected proportionate measures taken in a transparent manner and in accordance with the SPS Agreement.

In October 2015, the European Union reiterated its concerns regarding the Russian Federation's restrictions on imports of all fishery products from Estonia and Latvia, allegedly due to deficiencies in the safety systems. The European Union stated that the measure had been notified a month after implementation as an emergency measure. This was inconsistent with the SPS Agreement and in contravention of the Russian Federation's WTO accession commitments, which included not to suspend exports from groups of establishments without first having provided the technical information and scientific justification of the risks detected, and not to take such measures before the expiry of the timeframe provided for the adoption of corrective measures. The Russian Federation had not presented a risk assessment or provided evidence of immediate risk to consumers caused by deficiencies in the control systems of Estonia and Latvia, which had been regularly inspected by the Russian Federation in recent years without having identified any major problems. The European Union highlighted that Article 2.1 required that measures taken to protect human, animal or plant life or health must be consistent with the provisions of the Agreement. In addition, the European Union recalled that Articles 2.2 and 5.6 required measures to be based on scientific evidence and not to be more trade restrictive than necessary. Furthermore, the Russian Federation had adopted the ban just one day after the submission of the preliminary report of the audit to the competent authorities, in contrast with the reasonable time commitment it made prior to its accession. The comments provided by Latvia and Estonia on the audits had not received a response by the Russian Federation, more than three months after the submission. The European Union indicated its willingness to cooperate with the Russian Federation on this issue and requested the Russian Federation to lift the ban, bring its measures in line with international standards, and respect its WTO obligations.

The Russian Federation responded that it was justified in imposing temporary restrictions on fishery products from Latvia and Estonia. Upon inspection, the Russian authorities found that Latvia and Estonia were unable to produce safe products that complied with requirements from both importing and exporting countries. Therefore, the Russian Federation had concluded that the guarantees provided by the EU veterinary services were not reliable. Many of these products had continued to be marketed and exported to the Russian Federation, which called for another round of inspections. The Russian Federation was cooperating with veterinary services of Latvia and Estonia to objectively assess the safety systems of fish processing establishments. Comments on the preliminary report had been received, but Latvian and Estonian authorities could not show that the withdrawal of potentially hazardous products was timely and effective enough. The Russian Federation was concerned that trading partners were not being informed about product safety problems. The temporary restrictions were in compliance with the international Eurasian Economic Union legal framework and with international standards. Before imposing the restrictions, relevant information had been published on the official website and consultations had been held with Latvian and Estonian authorities. Final reports of the inspections had just been sent to the veterinary services. The Russian Federation asked Latvia and Estonia to carry out their own inspection of the establishments and of their compliance with the Eurasian Economic Union veterinary requirements. The competent authorities of Latvia and Estonia had indicated that they did not oppose the Russian Federation's decisions and the EU representatives had agreed that the certification of products from Latvia and Estonia to Russia should be suspended. However, certification had not been suspended. Nevertheless, the Russian Federation was ready to find a solution on this issue.

The European Union replied that some of the information which had been provided by the Russian Federation contradicted EU information, reiterating that no major problems had been found in the numerous inspections held by the Russian Federation. Furthermore, the European Union indicated its concern with the statement that the EU had voluntarily agreed to suspend the certification of products from Latvia and Estonia, which did not reflect the EU information. The European Union reiterated the transparency of its own information and urged the Russian Federation to repeal its measures.

In March 2016, the European Union reiterated its concerns regarding the Russian Federation's restrictions on imports of all fishery products from Estonia and Latvia. The European Union recalled that in June 2015, the Russian Federation had introduced a ban on all fishery products from the two EU member States. The European Union considered the measures not based on scientific evidence or risk assessment, applied beyond the extent necessary to protect human health, and more trade restrictive than necessary. The Russian Federation had not presented a risk assessment or provided evidence of immediate risk to consumers caused by deficiencies in the control systems of Estonia and Latvia, which had been regularly inspected by the Russian Federation in recent years without having identified any major problems. The European Union stated that the measures did not meet the Russian Federation's WTO accession commitments, which included not to suspend exports from groups of establishments without first having provided the technical information and scientific justification of the risks detected, and not to take such measures before the expiry of the timeframe provided for the adoption of corrective measures. Furthermore, the Russian Federation had adopted the ban just one day after the submission of the preliminary report of the audit to the competent authorities, in contrast with the reasonable time commitment it had made prior to its accession. With regard to the EU rapid alert system for food and feed (RASFF) the European Union underlined that it was a transparent system which made available, not only to the authorities in the European Union but also to non-EU countries, information on the detection of incompliant products. It was an essential component of an effective and efficient food safety system. It was regrettable to see this information being misused by some trading partners for imposing disproportionate trade bans, particularly when those partners did not apply the same level of transparency to their own products. The European Union noted that Latvia and Estonia had both acted without delay in response to the findings of Russia. One of the actions taken was the immediate withdrawal from the market of the concerned products. Not 20% as Russia has claimed, but 100% of the products had been withdrawn. Furthermore, both EU member States put in place corrective measures within the timeframes Russia set, which was two months. These actions were brought to the attention of Russia in writing. Russia however had not shown any willingness to take into account these corrective actions and the restrictions had not been lifted. The European Union requested the Russian Federation to immediately lift the ban and respect its WTO obligations while expressing its readiness to discuss the matter with the Russian authorities in a constructive and cooperative manner.

The Russian Federation stated that it looked forward to close cooperation between the regulatory authorities, however, the import requirements of the Russian Federation and the Eurasian Economic Union needed to be followed. The Russian Federation had opened its market to EU member States through its accession obligations and found that EU guarantees had not been reliable as regular detection of banned contaminants, such as poly-aromatic hydrocarbons and benzopyrene, had occurred through monitoring programmes. The Russian Federation claimed that notifications from the EU Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) to withdraw potentially hazardous products were not timely or effective, as only around 20% were withdrawn and the rest exported. In addition, the Russian Federation had not received responses to questions submitted to Latvian authorities regarding an establishment that had exported potentially unsafe products and whether or not additional testing for benzopyrene had taken place. As mentioned previously, the Russian Federation was closely cooperating with the veterinary services of Latvia and Estonia to assess the safety systems implemented. However, questions remained and the Russian Federation believed that there was a lack of transparency, as RASFF notifications sent to third countries seemed to be simplified, containing no specific information on the establishments or consignments where violations had been detected, which impeded the withdrawal of potentially hazardous products. The CVO of Latvia had officially informed the Russian Federation that it was the European Commission which had notified all RASFF registered cases when harmful substances had been detected in EU products to the Russian Federation. No information on excessive levels of benzopyrene in Latvian products had been provided. The Russian Federation would continue cooperating in order to resume imports of canned fish and planned to carry out another round of inspections of processing plants in Latvia and Estonia in March-April 2016. The competent authorities had been notified.

The European Union noted the Russian Federation's statement and expressed its surprise that the facts presented by the Russian Federation did not correspond to the information it possessed.

In June 2016, the European Union reiterated its concerns regarding the Russian Federation's restrictions on imports of all fishery products from Estonia and Latvia. The European Union recalled that in June 2015, the Russian Federation had introduced a ban on all fishery products from the two EU member States. The European Union considered that the measures were not based on scientific evidence or a risk assessment, were applied beyond the extent necessary to protect human health, and were more trade restrictive than necessary. The European Union stated that the measures did not meet the Russian Federation's WTO accession commitments, which included not to take temporary suspension measures of imports from a group of establishments before the expiry of the time-frame provided for the adoption of corrective measures. In response to a statement made by the Russian Federation at the previous Committee meeting, the European Union argued that the EU rapid alert system for food and feed (RASFF) was timely, and that following actions taken by Estonia and Latvia, all concerned products had been withdrawn from the market, contrary to the Russian Federation's claim. The European Union also insisted that the RASFF was a transparent system which made available, not only to the authorities in the European Union but also to non-EU countries, information on the detection of incompliant products. The European Union noted that it had not received any request for clarification from the Russian Federation on the issue at hand, despite the possibility to do so. The European Union regretted to see the RASFF information being misused by some trading partners for imposing disproportionate trade bans, particularly when those partners did not apply the same level of transparency to their own products. The European Union requested the Russian Federation to immediately lift the ban and respect its WTO obligations while expressing its readiness to discuss the matter with the Russian authorities.

The Russian Federation stated that it was ready for close cooperation with the Estonian and Latvian regulatory authorities; however, the import requirements of the Russian Federation and the Eurasian Economic Union needed to be followed. The Russian Federation reiterated that the restrictions were temporary and would be reconsidered as soon as the detected violations to the import requirements, of which the competent authorities in Estonia and Latvia were informed, were removed. The Russian Federation noted that relative progress had been made between the Russian Federation and the competent authorities, but this progress was still insufficient as the Russian Federation was unable to obtain information concerning the detection of certain harmful sea contaminants, as well as certain measures expected to prevent the access of dangerous products to the market. The Russian Federation explained that the Estonian and Latvian veterinary services had provided them with an updated list of the establishments authorized to export their products to the Eurasian Union (EAU); however, when specialists were sent from the EAU to inspect these fish processing plants, two out of the three Latvian plants and one out of the ten Estonian plants spontaneously refused to be inspected. The Russian Federation considered this to be evidence that the competent authorities could not guarantee compliance of their products with EAU import requirements.

In October 2016, the European Union reiterated its concerns regarding the Russian Federation's restrictions on imports of all fishery products from Estonia and Latvia, in place since June 2015. The European Union declared that this ban was inconsistent with various articles of the SPS Agreement as well as with the Russian Federation's WTO accession commitments. The European Union called on the Russian Federation to promptly share the outcomes of the inspections conducted in the summer of 2016. The European Union argued that the withdrawal of some establishments from the auditing list did not, as described by the Russian Federation in previous statements, constitute evidence of non-compliance, but were related to delays in carrying out the audits. The European Union reiterated its call on the Russian Federation to remove the ban while expressing its readiness to cooperate with the Russian Federation in a constructive manner.

The Russian Federation stated that it was ready to cooperate with the competent authorities from Estonia and Latvia, and recalled that systemic deficiencies in the work of these authorities had led to violation of fishery products safety and given way to the temporary restrictions. The Russian Federation however noted that cooperation was in progress and that a number of entities had been delisted. Re-inspections had been conducted by the relevant authorities of the Eurasian Economic Union members, and had showed that some positive measures had been taken in Estonia and Latvia. However, certain problematic measures relating to the access of dangerous products to the market had not yet been addressed, and the Russian Federation stated that it was waiting for the competent authorities to provide more data. The Russian Federation would inform the Latvian and Estonian authorities about the next steps as soon as it received and considered the relevant data.

In March 2017, the European Union reiterated its concerns regarding the Russian Federation's restrictions on imports of processed fishery products from Estonia and Latvia. The European Union recalled that in June 2015, following an audit carried out in some establishments in Latvia and Estonia, Russia had introduced a ban on the import of all fishery products from those two EU member States. The European Union stated that the ban was inconsistent with various provisions of the SPS Agreement because it was not based on science, did not respect the necessity principle and was more restrictive than necessary. The European Union also noted that the measures did not respect the Russian Federation's WTO accession commitments.

The European Union underlined that Latvia and Estonia had acted without delay in response to the findings of the Russian Federation in 2015, and had put in place corrective measures within the timeframes set by the Russian Federation. Those actions had been brought to the attention of the Russian Federation, which carried out subsequent audits in 2016 to verify the corrective actions. The European Union added that Latvia and Estonia had addressed all the requests from the Russian Federation authorities for information or clarification, but the results of their audits had not been communicated and the bans remained in place. The European Union reiterated its call to the Russian Federation to repeal the ban while expressing its readiness to work with the Russian Federation in a constructive and cooperative manner.

The Russian Federation responded that the temporary restriction imposed on supplies of canned products from a number of fish processing plants in Latvia and Estonia was well founded. The Russian Federation had informed the SPS Committee of the matter on numerous occasions: The violations in the process of ensuring the safety of fishery products were caused by systematic deficiencies in the work of competent authorities and the establishments of the countries concerned as confirmed by the inspections carried out by the experts.

The Russian Federation observed that the attention drawn by the Rosselkhozdnadzor to the issue and an additional joint inspection at the fish processing plants of Latvia and Estonia had led to positive measures by the veterinary services. However, some matters remained outstanding. Pursuant to the relevant procedures, the results and conclusions of inspections were being finalized by the competent authorities of the Eurasian Economic Union (representatives of which had also taken part in the inspection). The Russian Federation would transmit the report of the inspection to Latvia and Estonia in the near future, and remained prepared to make all the necessary efforts to find a solution to the issue.

In July 2017, the European Union reiterated its concerns regarding the Russian Federation's restrictions on imports of all fishery products from Estonia and Latvia. The European Union reiterated that the restrictions were inconsistent with the SPS Agreement and did not respect Russia's WTO accession commitments. The European Union underlined that Latvia and Estonia had acted without delay in response to the findings of the Russian Federation in 2015, and had put in place corrective measures within the timeframes set by the Russian Federation. Those actions had been brought to the attention of the Russian Federation, which carried out subsequent audits in 2016 to verify the corrective actions, but the results of their audits had not been communicated and the bans remained in place. The European Union reiterated its call to the Russian Federation to repeal the ban while expressing its readiness to work with the Russian Federation in a constructive and cooperative manner.

The Russian Federation responded that the temporary restriction imposed on supplies of fish products in Latvia and Estonia was due to violations in the process of ensuring the safety of fishery products, as confirmed by experts' inspections. The Russian Federation explained that it was working in coordinating with other Eurasian Economic Union member countries and that it was open to further cooperation and discussions.

In November 2017, the European Union reiterated its concerns regarding the Russian Federation's import restrictions on all fishery products from Estonia and Latvia, which followed an audit of a few establishments by the Russian Federation in 2015. The European Union argued that these measures were inconsistent with the SPS Agreement, unjustifiable on sanitary grounds, and not in compliance with the Russian Federation's WTO accession commitments. The European Union added that Latvia and Estonia reacted without delay to the findings and had put in place corrective measures within the requested time-frame, and had been subsequently audited by the Russian Federation in June 2016. The European Union regretted that it only received the report of these audits the day before the Committee meeting. Estonia and Latvia had held bilateral discussions with the Russian Federation to show their readiness to resolve this concern. The European Union called for an immediate repeal of the measure

The Russian Federation recalled that the temporary restriction had been the result of onsite inspections that found systemic deficiencies in fish processing. More recent inspections noted the progress made in complying with requirements of the Eurasian Economic Union, but did not fully address the safety concerns. Finally, the Russian Federation awaited responses from Latvia and Estonia to the preliminary report of its inspection.

In March 2018, the European Union reiterated its concerns regarding the Russian Federation's import restrictions on all fishery products from Estonia, which followed an audit of a few establishments by the Russian Federation in 2015. The European Union argued that these measures were inconsistent with the SPS Agreement, unjustifiable on sanitary grounds, and not in compliance with the Russian Federation's WTO accession commitments. The European Union indicated that Estonia had been audited by the Russian Federation in June 2016, however, the findings of this audit had only been provided in October 2017. In addition, Estonia had held several bilateral discussions with the Russian Federation, without further success. The European Union welcomed the re-authorization of one fishery products establishment in December 2017, but expressed its regret that the same approach had not been applied to other concerned establishments. The European Union urged the Russian Federation to immediately repeal the measure.

The Russian Federation indicated that considerable progress had been made since the last Committee meeting, highlighting that further to inspections in 2016, restrictions had been lifted on one Estonian establishment in December 2017. The Russian Federation further noted that it would consider lifting more restrictions, upon submission of information on how the remaining deficiencies identified during the inspection visit were being addressed. The Russian Federation also recalled that Estonia had agreed to another inspection visit in July 2018, which it hoped would produce positive results.

In July 2018, the European Union reiterated its view that these measures were inconsistent with the SPS Agreement and with WTO accession commitments of the Russian Federation. Estonia had held several bilateral discussions with the Russian Federation, without much progress. The European Union welcomed the re-authorization for exports of one establishment, but regretted the continuous ban on every other establishment. Estonia had accepted Russia's proposal for a third round of inspections, without receiving a confirmation on the date of the audit from the Russian Federation. The European Union urged the Russian Federation to immediately repeal the measure.

The Russian Federation recalled that the measure had been put in place after inspections conducted by the competent Russian authority in 2016. In February 2018, the Russian Federation had informed the Estonian Veterinary and Food Board of an inspection visit to evaluate the corrective actions that had been taken. In July 2018 Estonia had agreed to receive the inspection visit. However, the Russian Federation explained that the visit had been postponed due to other commitments of inspectors, and had been tentatively rescheduled for September 2018.

The European Union clarified that the inspections and the ban on Estonian fish processing plants had been in place since 2015, not 2016, as indicated by the Russian Federation.

In November 2018, the European Union reiterated its concerns regarding import restrictions on fisheries products from Estonia, highlighting that these measures were inconsistent with several provisions of the SPS Agreement as well as with the Russian Federation's WTO accession commitments. Estonia had held several bilateral discussions with the Russian Federation, without much progress. The European Union welcomed the re-authorization for exports of one establishment, but regretted the continuous ban on every other establishment. The European Union welcomed the Russian Federation's acceptance earlier in the year to conduct another round of audits on Estonian establishments in 2018, but regretted that despite Estonian's efforts, no dates had been confirmed yet. The European Union urged the Russian Federation to repeal the measure, which was inconsistent with several provisions of the SPS Agreement.

The Russian Federation provided information on progress made, highlighting that 500 tonnes of fishery products had been exported from one establishment in Estonia and another in Latvia in 2018. The Russian Federation further noted that it would discuss with Estonia conditions and dates of future inspection visits. Finally, the Russian Federation expressed its willingness to resolve this issue.

In March 2019, the European Union reiterated its concern, given that only one fishery plant from Estonia had been authorized to export to the Russian Federation. The European Union argued that this was inconsistent with several provisions of the SPS Agreement and with the Russian Federation's WTO accession commitments. The European Union regretted that the ban remained in place despite the intent expressed by the Russian Federation to solve the matter. A date for a third round of audits had nonetheless been agreed.

The Russian Federation updated Members on the progress achieved regarding the temporary restrictions on fishery products from Estonia's processing plants, which had been put in place after inspections by Russian authorities in 2016. In July 2018, the Estonian veterinary service had agreed to re-inspection visits in late April 2019, to determine whether corrective measures had been taken and that SPS requirements were being fully implemented and fulfilled.

In July 2019, the European Union acknowledged the developments after a recent audit carried out by the Russian Federation, the announcement of their intention to lift the ban from a second establishment, and possibly a third one on a conditional basis. It expressed its hope that all Estonian fishery establishments, compliant with the requirements of the Russian Federation, would regain access to the Russian market in the near future.

The Russian Federation updated Members on the progress made on this issue. The Russian Federation's Veterinary Service had conducted the inspection of four Estonian fish product-manufacturing plants, interested in supplying their products to the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). The results of the inspections had not been satisfactory for all the inspected plants. The efficient control of the production process and compliance with the EAEU regulation had been confirmed only by one of the plants and temporary restrictions on its product supplies had been lifted from 27 May 2019. The Russian Federation was looking forward to the comments and corrective actions from Estonia.