Russia has agreed to end a blanket ban on vegetables from the EU at a summit aimed at ironing out differences between Brussels and Moscow. Despite some difficulties, relations were declared to be at a high point.
The ban had threatened to hamper progress on other matters
Russia said it was ready to lift a ban on vegetables from the EU as an EU-Russia summit drew to a close on Friday.
Brussels has agreed to establish a new certification process for vegetables in coordination with Russian officials, averting the risk of a major trade dispute.
"We are prepared to allow such deliveries to start again, under the supervision of competent European authorities," said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Russian officials will work with the EU to certify vegetables as safe
The ban had divided the two-day summit in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod from the outset. EU officials had maintained that the ban was a violation of free trade rules, while the Kremlin said it was a necessary public health measure.
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said that he expected deliveries to resume within days.
"A system of certification of the vegetable safety by the European Commission will be put in place without any delay, and details of the certification will be finalized as soon as possible by the Russian Federation and the European Commission services," said Barroso.
Russia imposed a blanket ban on all vegetable imports from the EU to prevent the spread of the E. coli bacterium, which has left at least 31 people dead and made some 3,000 sick.
Despite the tension caused by the ban, EU president Herman Van Rompuy said relations between Brussels and Moscow had not suffered as a result.
"This has been our third summit since the entering into force of the Lisbon treaty. The EU-Russia relationship is enjoying its best dynamics for years, and we can build on a track record of strengthened trust and constructive dialogue.''
'Political will' for modernization
A key issue was Russia's membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which Moscow has been seeking for 18 years. Van Rompuy stressed that WTO access was important in Russia's drive to modernize.
"We go further with a strong political will, certainly from the Russian side but also from our side, to see a membership by the end of the year of Russia to this very important international agency," said van Rompuy.
Concerns persist about human rights in Russia
Talks also continued on visa free travel, with Medvedev claiming that Russia and the EU would agree by the end of July on a plan to put this into effect.
Fears over democratic values
Van Rompuy expressed the EU's continued concern over human rights issues in Russia and the need for free and fair elections.
"There are still concerns in our member states and among the European public about the situation of human rights. The upcoming elections in Russia in December and in March next year are going to be an issue of high interest in Europe. Respect for the international obligations and political pluralism will be key in this respect."
The EU also called upon Russia to respect the territorial integrity of Georgia and withdraw its forces from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in accordance with earlier agreements. Although Russia considers the two territories independent states, most countries regard it as Georgian territory.
Author: Geert Groot Koerkamp, Moscow / rc
Editor: Nicole Goebel