Russian sanitary policy gets diplomatic?
31 October, 2013
Russian sanitary policy gets diplomatic?
As Genadi Onishchenko, chief sanitary inspector of Russian Federation, who has been notorious for his blunt and often controversial phrasing and politically motivated decisions, stepped down a week ago and more balanced Anna Popova took her office, hopes flickered again that Russian sanitary inspection will get more diplomatic.
During his tenure, Onishchenko was widely known for a number of controversial decisions regarding food products from neighboring countries, in particular, those from the former Soviet satellites such as Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova
and Belarus, which coincidentally look westward. In March 2006, Russia banned imports of Moldavian and Georgian wines as well as mineral water and agricultural products coming from Georgia on the pretext of alleged health risks that these products posed. The move came at a time of deteriorating relations of Russia with Georgia and Moldova, when those two countries have repeatedly stated goals that they wanted to join the NATO. The next victim was Belarus in 2009, when it moved closer to the European Union. The Russian food agency reacted by banning export of Belarussian vegetables on health grounds. Starting from August this year, Onishchenko banned chocolate imports from the Ukraine’s largest confectioner Roshen and Moldavian wines for alleged health risks in the product. The decision coincided with the uneasy talks over energy supplies to Ukraine and with the Vilnius Summit scheduled by end of this coming November, where Ukraine is scheduled to sign an associated agreement with the EU, whereas Moldova and Georgia are going to initiate similar agreements. Lithuania, already the EU member and a host country of the EU Summit, could not escape the heavy hand of Onishchenko, who warned that the Lithuanian dairy products would be banned because they fell below the standards. Although Russia opened up its market to Georgian product this summer after large-scale on-spot inspections of Georgian companies, shortly after banning Moldavian wines, Onishchenko became wary that 28 Georgian wines, already approved by his inspectors, were risky for health.
The rap sheet of Onishchenko cannot be complete without recommendations to avoid sushi because of a risk of tapeworms and a suggestion to kill crows for allegedly spreading bird flu. According to Soso Archvadze, an economic analyst, Onishchenko was used as a scare figure by the Kremlin to swathe political decisions and his resignation doesn’t mean there is any breakthrough in Moscow’s policy.
“Since Popova is reported to be a very balanced person, takes Onishchenko’s place, very likely, Russian sanitary policy will become more euphemized and diplomatic without abrupt expressions and decisions,” he admitted. “But the market will remain risky.” To hedge the risk, Georgian producers try to keep their export to Russia in small volumes in spite of sky-high demands. Companies also ensure advanced payments by distributor companies.
According to Zurab Ramazashvili, Head of Telavi Wine Cellar, who is poised to send 30-35% of the company’s total export to Russia next year, the demand on Georgian wine is so big that the company might have easily sold its total export of 6.5 million bottles in Russia but he tries to keep the market diversified. “We export in 22 countries including Canada, the UK and the US and we do not want to lose positions there, therefore we limit our export to Russia to 30-35%,” he told Georgian Journal.
According to Shalva Khetsuriani, President of the Association of Georgian Sommeliers, Georgia should use Russian market while it is open but try to make Georgian wine popular throughout the world.
“We should work on our image as decent wine producing country and this image is not created in the post-Soviet area but in UK, Japan, China and so forth. Forget Russia as the single market,” he said.

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