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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New EU Food Fight Looming

BRUSSELS -- European Union vegetable exporters may have to wait until the last minute to see if Russia bans their products due to food safety concerns, despite glimmers of hope appearing after Moscow settled its row with one country, the Netherlands.

Russia has banned imports of a string of farm products from EU states, including Germany, Denmark and Estonia, saying they do not meet sanitary standards.

Poland has also accused Moscow of foot-dragging on accepting its dairy exports.

Earlier on Monday, Russia said it would restart imports this week of flowers, cocoa, tobacco, tea and soybeans from the Netherlands. Fruit and vegetables will follow on March 1.

But there is still a long way to go to defuse the wider dispute, officials say. Russia has demanded a common safety certificate for EU plant and vegetable exports from April 1, which would replace 25 different national versions now in use.

This week, Markos Kyprianou, EU Commissioner for Food Safety and Consumer Protection, will sit down with Russia's agriculture minister and its veterinary chief to discuss the deadline.

"We're not expecting any great breakthroughs during this short visit," said an official at the European Commission.

"The talks will continue, may well run up to the wire, and I wouldn't be surprised if they go up to the end of March," the official said.

"So far, the talks are going well. But the Russians say if they do not get an agreement by April 1, they will extend the ban on vegetable and plant products to the whole of the EU."

Last month, Kyprianou warned of the "threat of serious disruption" to EU-Russia trade if the row was not resolved.

EU diplomats see Russia's bans as a warning that it wants the bloc to hold to a deal struck in an earlier row over meat.

That dispute was resolved in September, freeing Russian meat imports from the 25-member bloc worth 1.3 billion euros ($1.7 billion) per year.

The EU-Russia talks may also have been complicated by last year's enlargement, when 10 mostly ex-communist countries from Central and Eastern Europe -- former spheres of Soviet influence and with traditional trade ties to Moscow -- became EU members.

Some of the EU's newcomers have been particularly vocal over the food bans.

Last month, Poland complained to EU ministers about lengthy Russian paperwork for accepting its dairy exports.

"The Commission has said there is no reason why the 10 new member states should be treated any differently to the 15 old ones," the official told reporters.

"Commissioner Kyprianou will no doubt make that point again [in Moscow]."