Pig carcasses© View Pictures/REX/ Shutterstock

The World Trade Organisation has backed the EU in its row over Russia’s import ban on live pigs, fresh pork and other pig products.

The move puts Moscow under pressure to back down over the ban, which it introduced in 2014, purportedly because of concerns related to cases of African swine fever (ASF).

In a report published on Friday (19 August), a WTO panel declared the ban illegal in light of international trade rules.

See also: EU spells out £3.3bn effect of Russia’s pigmeat ban

It said imposing an EU-wide import ban because of a limited number of cases of ASF in the EU close to the border with Belarus violated sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures.

The overnight loss of valuable pigmeat exports caused oversupply in the EU market, which led to a damaging slump in prices.

In 2013, the value of EU pork exports to Russia was €1.4bn (£1.2bn), which was about 25% of all EU exports.

Obligations

In a statement, the EU said the ruling sent a strong signal to Russia about its obligations.

It had challenged the ban on the grounds that it was politically motivated, arguing EU-wide restrictions in response to such isolated cases of swine fever were disproportionate.

“[The] ruling confirms that the measures taken by Russia against the EU have little to do with any real sanitary or health risks,” it said.

“EU products are safe and there is thus no need for any country to maintain unjustified import restrictions.”

Russia has an opportunity to appeal the WTO’s report within 60 days.

If no appeal is filed within that deadline, the report will be adopted and Russia will be bound to comply with the recommendation.

Market implications

Stephen Howarth, market specialist manager for AHDB Pork, said if the Russian market was to reopen it would help with fats and offal, as it had been a struggle for the EU to find another home for these sort of products.

But overall the EU pigmeat market was in a healthier place than it had been a few months ago, with EU prices stablising in recent weeks.

Over the past two years there had been a boom in exports to China which meant the EU was exporting more meat than ever before, he said.

“The Chinese market has expanded so much that the Russian ban is not as critical or damaging as it once was,” he said.

UK prices

The more positive picture in the EU pigmeat market, coupled with the the weaker value of sterling which makes UK production look competitive, has been reflected in a sustained growth in prices in the UK.

In the week ending 13 August, UK pig prices rose to their highest level since February 2015.

The EU-spec SPP rose to 135p/kg DW, a total increase of 1.02p/kg on the week.