The European Union said on Thursday (26 February) that it had asked the World Trade Organization (WTO) to help sort out a dispute with Russia over “excessive import duties” on refrigerators and other products. The trade conflict is another politically-motivated issue between Brussels and Moscow amidst the Ukraine crisis. The EU states that “it requested the establishment of a dispute settlement panel at the World Trade Organization in Geneva concerning Russia’s excessive import duties, in particular on paper products, refrigerators and palm oil”.
The EU’s request for the WTO to establish a panel of experts to examine the dispute follows the failure of both sides to settle the dispute via consultations and negotiations last year. The EU says that Russia is not respecting commitments it made when it joined the WTO three years ago, mainly referring to the maintenance of import duties below a certain limit. “Russia has continued taxing a number of products across various sectors more heavily than agreed,” the EU said, adding that “this is still the case today for certain products of interest for the EU.”
The block is currently exporting goods worth €120 billion annually to Russia. Brussels has reported that Moscow’s excessive duties were costing the EU economies some €600 million annually. Brussels therefore raised the issue citing “systemic concern, as it constitutes a violation of one of the key WTO principles”. The WTO dispute settlement body will investigate the issue in March. Russia joined the WTO in August 2012 after 18 years of negotiations as its 156th member. The accession was particularly important for the EU given the scope of mutual trade. While Russia is the third biggest trading partner for the EU, the EU is Russia’s first. Since 2012, the EU-Russia trade relations have, for the first time, been bound by multilateral agreements and obligations.