New regulations on meat and milk imports that came into force Nov. 1 require all foreign countries to prove that companies exporting meat and dairy products to Latvia meet the European Union's strict veterinary standards. France is among the countries that have thus far failed to submit a list for the Agriculture Ministry's approval.
"The EU regulations on imports are very strict. Only six Latvian milk processing companies are allowed to export to the EU and no meat processing companies are allowed to export. The regulations should be strict on both sides," said Janis Lapse, state secretary at the Agriculture Ministry.
The regulations are indeed strict. Meat exporters from only 23 and dairy exporters from 24 countries meet the standards set by the EU and the Latvian Agriculture Ministry. Each of these countries has to prove that all companies exporting to Latvia meet proper veterinary requirements. The Agriculture Ministry approved lists of such companies for 232 meat and 82 milk products exporters.
France is one of the pre-approved 24 countries, but its failure to submit a list has disqualified its milk producers from exporting to Latvia. Belgium, Denmark, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Finland and Ireland have all failed to produce lists as well, which means truckloads of European dairy products will be left on the other side of the Latvian border.
Janis Kinna, head of the Sanitary Border Inspection unit, said those exporters that are not on the list will run into trouble.
"Twenty-four countries are allowed to export milk, but we have company lists from only nine, and only 10 countries out of 23 sent their lists of meat exporters," Kinna said.
The Agriculture Ministry predicts imports of meat and dairy prodcuts will decrease by 20 percent due to the stricter regulations.
Gundega Micule, director of the foodstuffs quality department at the Agriculture Ministry, said the new procedure was introduced to organize imports of meat and milk products and protect local consumers from low quality products.
The Sanitary Border Inspection will not only check each cargo's country of origin but will also make sure it is sent by an approved company.
The new regulations will also affect Latvian companies that import milk and meat products. Today, 140 companies import meat and 65 import dairy products, but after the new regulations are introduced, their number may decrease by 30 percent, said Jazeps Remeicans, director of the State Veterinary Service .
He said smaller companies that cannot afford transportation and storage equipment and cannot meet veterinary regulations might have to quit the business.
Although the Agriculture Ministry officials stress the new import procedure serves as quality control, they do not deny that it's a protective measure against increased competition from imported goods.
In the nine months of 1998, Latvia imported 15,357 tons of pork, beef and poultry, while exporting only 978 tons. Local producers do not export any frozen beef, but in the first nine months imported 736.3 tons.
"Today in Latvia beef production has been destroyed because imports did not allow farmers to develop," Lapse said. "This crisis may also hit pork production and we don't want this to happen to the milk industry."