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news 02 Sep 16

Bosnia Hopes to Resume Food Exports to Russia

Bosnian authorities will do whatever is necessary to resume exports of fruits and vegetables to Russia, which were recently halted, a minister has said.

Drazen Simic
BIRN
Sarajevo
Russian ban on Bosnia's products was extended until Bosnia's authorities fix all irregularities.

Bosnia's Ministry for Foreign Trade has received a report compiled by Russian inspectors during their recent visit to Bosnia, and has said it will do everything in its power to fix shortcomings highlighted in their report, Minister Mirko Sarovic said.

Speaking in Sarajevo on Wednesday, Sarovic announced that Russian inspectors will visit Bosnia again on September 11, and spend two weeks reviewing whether conditions for the resumed export of more than 20 items have been met or not.

Sarovic expressed hopes that the findings of Russian inspectors will be positive, so that Bosnian producers of fruits and vegetables can continue exporting to the Russian market.

Exports were halted on August 4 after Russian authorities detected irregularities in certain food products imported from Bosnia.

By mid-August, the Russian government had sent in inspectors who concluded that Bosnia's health certificates, as well as the documentation establishing the origin of the products, could not be trusted.

The Russian ban on Bosnia's products was extended until Bosnia's authorities fix all the noted irregularities.

The ban threatened to reverse the growth of Bosnian exports to Russia recorded in the last three years.

For years, exports of food, fruits and vegetables have been seen as a prime opportunity for Bosnian producers, but the opportunity never fully materialized as Bosnian producers have been unable to compete with EU producers on European markets.

That started changing as of 2014, after the US and EU imposed sanctions on Russia for its role in the conflict in Ukraine and subsequent annexation of Crimea. Russia responded by imposing sanctions on the EU and US.

Suddenly, the fact that Bosnia was not an EU member became an advantage and exports of fruit and vegetables to Russia boomed.

According to Bosnia's agency for statistics, the value of Bosnian exports to Russia increased from 29.2 million euros in 2013 to 50 million euros in 2015, an increase of 71.4 per cent.

This trend continued this year. During the first seven months of 2016, Bosnian exports to Russia were worth 25 million euros, which was 19.5 per cent more compared to the same period in the previous year.

This upwards trend was threatened after Russia temporarily stopped imports from Bosnia, after its inspectors found that 18 tons of peaches, whose papers confirmed Bosnia as the origin of the fruits, actually came from Guinea. It was never explained how the peaches from Africa became listed as a Bosnian product.

Russia, which already had issues with certificates of origin for fruits from Bosnia, sent its inspectors to Bosnia from August 17 to August 20 to identify the problems.

"Russian inspectors noticed that Bosnia's administration for plant health does not have a centralized database with all issued certificates and that ... [Bosnia's two] entities and the District of Brcko don't send this data," Sarovic said on Wednesday.

This means that it is almost impossible to quickly verify the authenticity of certificates which accompany Bosnian fruits and vegetables when the certificates are presented at the Russian border, because the certificates are being issued by inspectors from the two entities over which the state administration has no control.

To fix the problems and resume exports to Russia, Bosnian authorities will have to ensure the state and entity institutions cooperate and coordinate the issue of the certificates.

Paradoxically, Russian politicians in the past were among most vocal opponents of further centralization in Bosnia, and have been strong supporters of the autonomy of Bosnia's Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska.

Now, when it comes to the protection of health of its own consumers, Russia insists that one institution in Bosnia should be in charge of issuing certificates for the export of goods.

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