Russia insists that meat imported from Finland be inspected by Russian veterinary officials
Finns complain of Russian shake-down
Russian veterinary officials have imposed a rule under which Finnish pork sold in Russia must be inspected by a Russian veterinarian.
Finnish officials and meat exporters were surprised by the rules, which came into effect earlier this year.
Russia says that the purpose of the new rules is to make sure that the meat really comes from Finland, and not from some other European Union country.
"This new arrangement is unnecessary and inappropriate", says Matti Aho of the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. "We are capable of guaranteeing the safety of foods."
According to standard international practice, veterinarians of the country of origin are authorised to inspect meat that is to be exported. Aho says that this practice is based on the so-called SPS Agreement reached by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and that the SPS agreement clearly states that the officials of the exporting country are to be trusted.
"Russia is not yet a member of the WTO, so it can - and does - do what it likes", Aho adds.
He nevertheless feels that the insistence on an inspection by Russian veterinarians goes against the spirit of the preliminary inspection system set up by the EU and Russia, which took effect at the beginning of this year.
Lea Lastikka of the Finnish Food and Drink Industries' Federation is also not convinced by the Russian arguments.
"The cold fact is that this is just one more way of collecting money. This is not based on any legislation."
Lastikka calculates that the use of Russian veterinarians increases meat export costs by more than ten euros per tonne of meat.
No Russian veterinarians appear to have been officially authorised to conduct inspections on meat from Finland.
Papyro, a company which procures Russian veterinary services, recently set up shop in the Finnish city of Lappeenranta near the Russian border. However, the company cannot be found in any business registers, and its background remains a mystery to most Finns.
"We have not received confirmation that Papyro would be authorised by any officials. If companies use private services, it is always possible that a load might be stopped en route to Moscow by an official who says that the company was not authorised", Lastikka says.
On the other hand, meat exporters have little choice. The Finnish meat packers Atria and HK currently use the services of veterinarians supplied by Papyro.