Lithuania and Russia Resolve Trade Feud

Russian and Lithuanian customs officials have come to an agreement on a dispute over vehicle inspections, both sides said Thursday — after Russia’s agricultural watchdog banned imports of dairy products from four Lithuanian producers.

Hundreds of trucks have been waiting on the Lithuanian-Russian border in lines that have stretched dozens of kilometers since August, when Russian customs officials tightened inspections on Lithuanian trucks after finding numerous customs violations.

“We have agreed that we will submit the list of the most reliable transport companies to the Russian customs authorities on Friday, so that they have a facilitated access to the Russian territory,” a Lithuanian customs department spokeswoman said after the talks on Thursday.

“We will also exclude 29 transportation companies that have violated the TIR system,” she said. The TIR Treaty is an international convention that provides for a unified system of road transport.

An agreement on the new regulations was signed on Thursday by Lithuanian Ambassador Antanas Vinkus, the head if the Lithuanian customs department and Russian Federal Customs Service chief Vladimir Malinin.

“An agreement has been reached on the Lithuanian side introducing tighter control over access to the TIR system for cargo vehicles,” the Federal Customs Service said in the news release.

“We have detected numerous violations even among those Lithuanian transport companies that were TIR members,” Russian Customs Service spokesman Vladimir Zubkov said. “These certificates are usually given to the most reliable companies and guarantee that TIR returns the money to the customs authorities of the destination country if the cargo gets along the way, which has been widespread among the Lithuanian companies transporting cargo to Russia.”

“Customs duties are paid at the customs service at the destination point, not at the border, so we have lost some money,” Zubkov said, adding that he couldn’t give the exact sum of the debt. “We’ve been facing smuggling from the Lithuanian side.”

The Lithuanian customs department’s spokeswoman said the Russian side’s accusations would be considered by a special working group that had been created. “For now, we just hope the lines on the border will gradually get through within the next two days,” she said. By Thursday afternoon, there were 840 cargo vehicles and 90 cars lined up at the border, Interfax reported.

Lithuanian president Andrius Kubilius on Thursday called the Russian customs service’s actions against Lithuanian transport companies “inadequate” and “discriminating against Lithuanian transport companies.”

On Aug. 13, Lithuanian Foreign Affairs Minister Vygaudas Usackas signed a letter to the European Commission with a request that road carriers not be discriminated against on a national basis. The Federal Customs Office has denied any discrimination.

In another dispute between the countries, Russia has banned butter, sour cream and cottage cheese from four Lithuanian producers because it said it had found tetracycline in the products — a chemical used to treat sick cows. The ban will come into affect on Monday, The Federal Customs Service and the Federal Phytosanitary Inspection Service, the country’s agriculture watchdog, have said the banned products have nothing to do with the customs problem.

Alexei Alexeyenko, the watchdog’s spokesman, said Thursday that it would send a team to Lithuania within a few weeks to inspect some of the Lithuanian farms, milk refineries and the local market regulators, a visit that could result in more restrictions against Lithuanian dairy producers, Alexeyenko said.

The Lithuanian veterinary service said on Wednesday it had followed up the Russian complaint and had traced farms with antibiotic-contaminated milk and imposed stricter controls to prevent future cases, Reuters reported.