Russia has banned meat imports from Moldova on the grounds of health, following a downturn in bilateral relations in the run up to Moldova’s parliamentary elections in November.
Sergei Dankvert, head of Russia’s Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance (Rosselkhoznadzor) said on October 22 that the agency had discovered meat imports from Moldova that were “unsafe products from the veterinary and sanitary point of view”. Meat imports would therefore be banned from October 27.
"In certain instances meat from Moldova has come from unidentified sources and is unsafe by veterinary-sanitary measures," Dankvert told Russian news agency TASS.
The agency is also considering a ban on imports from Belarussian companies that use unprocessed meat from Moldova, unless Belarus also agrees to ban Moldovan meat imports.
The deputy director of Moldova’s National Agency for Food Safety, Grigore Porcescu told state news agency Moldpres on October 22 that no official notification from Rosselkhoznadzor had been received by the government, which received the news from the Russian embassy in Chisinau. Porcescu added that the agency did “not know what the grounds for the prohibition would be”.
Moscow, acting through Rosselkhoznadzor, frequently uses its economic leverage in an attempt to force former Soviet states such as Moldova or Georgia to remain within the Russian sphere of influence.
In June, Moldova signed an Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU, firmly cementing its path towards European integration. Prime Minister Iurie Leanca has since said that he plans to apply for EU membership in 2015.
Three weeks after Moldova signed the two agreements, Rosselkhoznadzor announced bans on imports of most fruits and vegetables from Moldova, as well as introducing import duties on meat and other products. A ban on Moldovan wine imports has been in place since 2013.
Moscow has been irked by a recent decision by the Moldova constitutional court that declares promoting any political course other than European integration to be unconstitutional. Russian officials have voiced concerns that the ruling would allow Moldovan political parties who advocate entry to the Russian-led Customs Union rather than the EU to be banned.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has criticised the ruling, saying in a statement on October 22 that attempts by the court to explain the reason for the verdict were "inconsistent". "How can this ruling by the country’s supreme judicial authority be characterised as anything other than the de facto outlawing of political groups advocating an alternative path for the country’s development that differs from the priorities of the parties of the present ruling coalition?" the ministry says.
The November 30 election will be critical for Moldova, as it will determine whether the country stays on the pro-EU course it has pursued under Leanca. However, if the ruling Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition is ousted by the Communists, which have the largest number of seats in the current parliament, this could be reversed. Communist MP Grigore Petrenko has already filed a bill denouncing the EU Association Agreement that Leanca signed in June.
Moldova has already been hurt economically by the July ban on fruit and vegetable exports, even though EU has overtaken Russia as its top trading partner. Russia remains the country’s second biggest trading partner, accounting for around one quarter of total trade. Until the recent ban, Russia was a particularly important market for Moldovan fruit, absorbing between 70% and 90% of fruit exports and almost all the country’s apple exports, according to an OSW study. In 2013, Russia imported around $85m worth of Moldovan fresh and processed fruit and vegetables.
Since the ban came into force, Moldova was forced to search for new markets for its 2014 harvest, looking to Europe and the Middle East. It has had some success, for example in exporting to Belarus, which has ignored pressure from fellow Customs Union member Russia to join the ban.
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