RIGA - New amendments to the Latvian pork protection law that increased quotas for Estonian and Lithuanian exports but introduced higher duties on Polish meat went into effect this week.
Latvia agreed to soften its pork market protection measures, adopted last year, over protests from its neighbors, who complained they had been given a lower percentage of quotas than the EU, as well as local meat processors, who have been experiencing difficulties in filling capacity.
According to the amendments, which were passed by Parliament last month, import quotas for Latvia's Baltic neighbors increased by 57 percent. The quota for Estonian pork producers will rise to 3,684 tons per year and for Lithuanians at 369 tons a year. All imports of pork above these quotas will be subject to an additional duty of 0.25 lat (0.37 euro) per kilo.
In addition, the import duty on live pigs will also be cut in half to 0.10 lat per kilo.
At the same time, however, Latvia will introduce an additional import duty of 0.33 lat per kilo on pork imports from Poland.
The Agriculture Ministry and Parliament's legal office have warned that the move may result in an international scandal, but officials claim that Poland has been shamelessly subsidizing its pork exports close to the cost of pork despite international disapproval of the practice.
In 2002 Latvia imported 1,363 tons of pork from Poland, while in 2003 the figure ballooned to 5,610 tons. The price dropped from 0.54 lat per kilo in 2002 to 0.48 lat in 2003.
Moreover, the Polish Agricul-ture Ministry on Dec. 5, 2003, issued an order providing for the application of export compensations, which would remain into effect until April 30 of this year.
Indeed, Latvia's pork protection measures themselves will only last until May 1, 2004, when it joins the EU.
Still, last month both hog farmers and meatpackers said they were satisfied with the temporary measures that were passed on Feb. 12.
The chairman of the Latvian Hog Breeders Association, Varis Simanis, said that the "quota for neighboring countries should have been raised because it was incommensurate to quotas for the EU and other countries." But considering that the higher quotas will apply only for two months, the amendments were "more like a gesture," he said.
He praised the additional duties on Polish pork, saying the latter "cripples the market."
Latvian Meat Packer Association Chairman Maris Cers agreed. "Poland is a special case because they have subsidized meat, and the market is distorted."
Roscislaw Kartinski, a trade adviser with the Polish Embassy in Riga, said that the Polish government would decide whether "to take the same or similar steps" against Latvia. He said he was perplexed by Latvia adopting such law when both Latvia and Poland will join the EU shortly.