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Latvian pork tariff makes Estonia squeal

  • 1999-12-16
  • By Blake Lambert and Benjamin Smith
RIGA - Latvia announced on Dec. 9 that it would extend protective measures on pork for another two years, prompting celebration from local pig farmers and angry threats from Estonia.

The pork wars began this June 1, when Latvia announced a temporary 70 percent tariff on all pork imports.

The other Baltic states denounced the tariff at the time; this week Estonia threatened to take its neighbor to the World Trade Organization.

"The situation is dangerous because of the pork imports from Poland, the European Union and Estonia have increased," said Aiga Smiltane, an official in the trade policy department in Latvia's Agriculture Ministry.

"We're going to introduce the World Trade Organization's rules about defending our products in our country," she said.

The new legislation, which sets the minimum customs value of imported pork at 1.05 lats ($1.78), comes into effect on Dec. 18 and will last until Dec. 17, 2001.

A study earlier this year showed that domestic pork industry's imports were down by 10 percent, with losses up by half.

A specialist at the Estonian Agriculture Ministry said that Latvia's temporary measures have succeeded in reviving its industry.

"The import of pig meat has more or less stopped," said the specialist, Tauno Lukas. "The situation of Latvian pig breeders must have improved."

Lukas said that Estonian businesses have suffered, particularly the Roekvere Meat Processing Company, which brings Estonian pork to a Riga processing plant.

The company is losing more than 1 million kroons ($64,100) each month, he said.

"These measures are not in accordance with WTO rules or with free trade," said Lukas.

The legislation, which slipped through the Latvian Parliament after its language law, pleased Latvia's producers, who are still reeling from last winter's inexpensive imports.

"I'm really surprised that the pork which is imported is much cheaper in Latvia than the pork which is produced here," said Latvian pork farmer Aivars Kokts.

He said the legislation will address the root of the problem.

"The danger is they bring in pork. Pigs are not a problem. Meat is the problem."