(Updates with comment from Putin in fourth paragraph.)
June 3 (Bloomberg) -- Russia won’t lift a ban on imports of vegetables from Europe, imposed after an E.coli outbreak, to appease the European Union and enhance its bid to join the World Trade Organization, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said.
More than 1,600 people across Europe have been infected and 17 have died in the outbreak that started in Germany, according to the World Health Organization. The German government initially said cucumbers from Spain were to blame, though tests failed to confirm this. Spain will seek EU aid to compensate for damage to its cucumber producers.
Russia suspended imports of German and Spanish tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers on May 30 in response to the outbreak and yesterday extended the ban to all EU fresh vegetables. The EU has sought an immediate withdrawal of the Russian ban. The bloc’s envoy in Moscow today said that Russia, the largest economy outside the WTO, could follow its “rules and principles” even now, the Interfax news service reported.
“All the countries of Europe have been quarrelling over these cucumbers and now they’re trying to drag us into it,” Putin told reporters in Sochi today. “The EU says Russia’s decision contradicts the spirit of the WTO, but we can’t poison people because of some spirit.”
Russia is seeking clarification from the EU on the quality of its vegetables, Putin said, adding that he’ll review the grounds for the government’s import ban.
Russia’s consumer-safety watchdog said the government may lift the ban if German and EU authorities inform Russia of the cause of the outbreak and explain how it spread. The EU is involved in “intensive work” to identify the source, Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli said on June 1.
The Russian agency is also monitoring passengers and vehicles that arrive from countries affected by the outbreak.
Agriculture Minister Yelena Skrynnik said today that Russia has enough vegetables to meet domestic demand without imports from the EU. The 27-nation bloc accounted for 11 percent of Russian tomato imports and 5 percent of its cucumbers last year, according to the ministry.
--Editors: Patrick G. Henry, Fergal O’Brien
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