In an earlier ruling of 19 August 2016, a WTO panel acknowledged that Russia's refusal to accept imports of certain EU products and to adapt EU-Russia health import certificates accordingly amounts to an EU-wide import ban. The Russian measure is not based on the relevant international standards and violates the rules of the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Agreement). The panel made the same criticism of individual Russian bans on imports from Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia.
The ruling of 23 February sends another strong signal to Russia and all WTO Members on their obligation to respect international standards and to adapt their measures to respect the principle of Regionalization (Art.6 of the WTO-SPS Agreement). The panel underlined that WTO Members can exercise their right to determine their appropriate levels of sanitary protection and to restrict imports on the basis of sanitary concerns as long as they are effectively responding to real sanitary risks. This does not, therefore, concern products coming from disease-free areas.
The EU has one of the world's most efficient animal health and food safety systems, including high detection levels and stringent risk management rules. The ruling of 23 February reconfirms that the measures taken by Russia against the EU have little to do with any real sanitary or health risks. EU products from disease-free areas are safe and there is thus no need for any country to maintain unjustified import restrictions.
Russia should withdraw its unjustified measures and allow EU companies to resume normal business with their Russian partners. For most of the products dealt with in this case, trade continues to be restricted by a politically motivated ban Russia imposed on EU agri-food products in August 2014. However, certain products such as pig fat, offal and live animals for breeding were covered by the sanitary ban addressed by the WTO and are outside the scope of the 2014 political ban.
The EU will continue to use WTO procedures to ensure that international trade rules are effectively respected. WTO dispute settlement remains the strongest option to tackle significant trade barriers and to thus increase legal certainty and predictability for our companies.
Protectionist policies by Russia affect a wide variety of other economic sectors. In the recent past, the WTO panel rulings sided with the EU contesting a number of trade barriers imposed by Russia: excess duties on paper and other products and antidumping duties on light commercial vehicles. The EU has also initiated a WTO procedure on Russia's recycling fees on cars; this procedure is still pending.
Trade facts and figures
Total trade between the EU and Russia fell by around 36 % in the period 2013-2015. Nevertheless, the EU remains by far Russia’s most important trading partner: in 2015, the EU exported to Russia goods worth €74 billion and imported products worth nearly €139 billion. While Russian exports to the EU consist mainly of energy and raw materials, EU exports to Russia are mostly vehicles, medicines, machinery and transport equipment, as well as agricultural products. The EU represents about 40% of total Russian exports (2015). Russia accounts for less than 6% of EU's global trade and less than 4% of EU exports.