Next Baltic trade row: cheese

  • 2003-06-21
  • Baltic News Service

Another inter-Baltic trade war began to brew last week, as the daily Postimees reported that cheap Lithuanian cheese was crowding out products on the Estonian market, and that local cheese makers would demand the government curb imports.
In order to achieve their goal, Estonian cheese makers said they would try to show that Lithuanian cheese contains a substance - chloramphenicol - that is harmful, said the paper.
Chloramphenicol is a substance that ends up in milk with the use of medicines that are banned in dairy products.
Due to the presence of the substance some Lithuanian dairy products cannot be exported to the European Union, reported Postimees.
Ago Partel, head of the Estonian Veterinary and Food Board, told the paper that Lithuanian cheese had been checked but no banned substances were found.
The manager of cheese maker E-Piim, Jaanus Murakas, said it was generally known that Lithuanian raw milk was of poorer quality than Estonian, allowing Lithuanian cheese makers to produce a cheaper product that it can dump on foreign markets.
"Only a couple of years ago the market share of locally made cheese was around 90 percent, but by now it has shrunk to 57 percent," Murakas said.
In March more than 140 tons of Lithuanian cheese were imported in Estonia.
By contrast, a year earlier Lithuanian imports amounted to only 90 tons.
In general, exports of Lithuanian cheese have been growing dramatically, with January-February exports increasing 64 percent year-on-year, the country's State Food and Veterinary Service reported in March.
Much of the growth in exports came on deliveries to the United States, which purchased three times more Lithuanian cheese - in particular, the Parmazano brand - year-on-year.
Currently Lithuania, which is still not a member of the European Union, does not have cheese quotas with the United States, though Deputy Agriculture Minister Dalia Miniataite said earlier that after accession Lithuania would have to participate in the EU's cheese quota to the United States.