Ukrainian agriculture minister denounces trade war over Russian ban on meat and milk supplies

Ukraine's agriculture minister on Monday threatened to start a trade war with Russia over its refusal to lift a ban on Ukrainian meat and milk imports in the latest angry volley to be exchanged between the bickering neighbors. "We have enough levers," Agriculture Minister Oleksandr Baranovsky was quoted as saying by Ukrainian news agencies. "But all the same, we hope Russia will reconsider its decision".

Russia banned imports of Ukrainian meat and dairy products starting Jan. 20, citing violations of veterinary standards. Ukraine has called the move retaliation for its efforts to reclaim a number of disputed lighthouses on the Black Sea coast.

Ukrainian officials have tried for a week to have the ban lifted, so far to no avail. Baranovsky planned to travel to Moscow on Monday for talks, but canceled the visit after reportedly being told the Russians couldn't guarantee a meeting with his counterpart.

Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov noted this Monday when asked about when he planned to visit Moscow. Yekhanurov said there were no plans, adding "you see, our veterinarians can't even manage to get in there."

The Russian ban has threatened to cause serious losses to Ukraine's agriculture sector, and further strain relations between the ex-Soviet republics.

Baranovsky said Monday that Ukraine bought some US$355 million (294 million euros) worth of agricultural products from Russia last year, and US$102 million (84 million euros) worth of animal products. He noted trade wars never lead to anything positive, but said the option couldn't be ruled out.

Ukraine also planned to appeal to the World Trade Organization, the Agriculture Ministry said. Neither Ukraine nor Russia, however, are members of the WTO.

Russian-Ukrainian relations worsened after President Viktor Yushchenko defeated a Kremlin-backed candidate in the 2004 election and began a drive to reduce Russian influence. Ties were further strained during a bitter New Year's dispute over natural gas prices, and by Ukraine's complaints that Russia's Black Sea Fleet has usurped land that it isn't entitled to in a Ukrainian port, reports the AP.


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