Under a compromise agreement, Russia will allow products only from certain regions of Bulgaria and Romania. Poland's dispute with Moscow remains an issue
Russia has backed away from its threat to ban all EU meat imports from the beginning of next year after both sides negotiated a compromise in Moscow yesterday (19 December).
"From January 1, deliveries of products from the EU to Russia that are permitted will continue normally," said agriculture minister Alexei Gordeyev, according to Bloomberg news agency, after lengthy talks with EU health commissioner Markos Kyprianou.
Moscow had threatened to ban all EU meat imports when Bulgaria and Romania join the EU in just under two weeks time because of health concerns.
Both sides are now working out the details of a memorandum, to be signed on 18 January, under which only products from certain regions of Bulgaria and Romania will be eligible for export to Russia.
The last-minute agreement averts the scenario of a divided bloc, with meat-exporting member states setting up individual deals with Moscow - a potential weakness Russia had been attempting to exploit.
However, Mr Kyprianou said his hand was strengthened after last week's EU summit when it became clear countries were still holding ranks and not making bilateral deals.
"There was a definite understanding of the competencies of the commission and the member states on this issue. Once the legal definition was clarified late last week, we immediately prepared for this meeting," said the commissioner.
Although there is an apparent deal on this wider meat import issue, Moscow is still blocking the import of Polish meat, an issue that has been causing political headaches for several weeks now as Warsaw is in turn vetoing a separate EU-Russia cooperation pact, with talks officially supposed to start on the pact in November.
Polish prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski told public radio Jedynka on Tuesday that Warsaw could drop the veto if Moscow acknowledges Poland's "basic interests," but did not elaborate on what he meant.
Meanwhile Sergiey Dankvert, head of the Russian phytosanitary authority, said the issue would be discussed "more specifically" on 17 January - the day before the EU-Russia memorandum is to be signed.
And Polish farm minister Andrzej Lepper said he had been shown support by his colleagues at an EU agriculture meeting in Brussels Tuesday, Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza writes.
"The other ministers assured me, the Polish issue is being treated as part of the general problem," he said.
The Polish veto issue is due to be discussed by EU ambassadors today (20 December) in Brussels, with Poland also having been offered a separate bilateral food deal by Moscow.
Russia imposed the Polish meat ban over a year ago, accusing Poland of violating hygiene laws – but Warsaw says the ban is politically motivated.