Top Moldovan officials to discuss wine embargo in Moscow

Seven Moldova lawmakers left for Moscow on Wednesday to discuss a Russian ban on Moldovan wine imports, which Moscow says is due to poor quality. Moldovan analysts, however, say the ban was political in retaliation for new customs rules agreed by Moldova and Ukraine that affect the exports of Moldova 's pro-Russian separatist province Trans-Dniester.

The new rules, which began on March 3, mean that all exports from Trans-Dniester have to be certified by Moldovan authorities and cannot be exported to Russia via neighboring Ukraine , as they previously have been. Russia has protested the measures, which are aimed at curbing rampant smuggling. Communist party leader Eugenia Ostapciuc led the group of lawmakers from different parliamentary parties who will meet with Russian legislators during a three-day visit, according to a statement from Parliament's press service.

On March 27, Russia banned wine imports from Moldova and from Georgia saying it needed to protect consumers from poor-quality wine. Moldova and Georgia have moved to established closer ties to the West in recent years, and their ties to Moscow have worsened over Russian support for separatists in the two countries.

"The aim of our visit is to show Russian officials objective information about Moldovan wine and also to talk about the new customs rules," said Marian Lupu, a lawmaker ahead of the visit Russia is a staunch supporter of Moldova 's breakaway Trans-Dniester province, which it considers strategically important. About 1,500 Russian troops are stationed in the region.

Wine exports make up about 30 percent of Moldova 's gross domestic product. Moldova sells 80 percent of its wine to Russia . Last year Moldova exported US$313 million (euro260milion) worth of wine abroad. The head of the commercial and political department of the Trade and Economy Ministry Octavian Calmic said Moldova would support Russia's entry of the World Trade Organization only if the wine ban was reversed and other imports of agricultural produce were Russia, whose export-oriented industries stand to profit from the freer access to Western markets that WTO membership would bring, has been negotiating to join the 149-member global commerce body since 1994, reports the AP.