BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Senior Russian customs officials met counterparts from the European Commission on Monday in what they said were the highest-level talks for over a year on issues where relations are soured by trade sanctions.
EU officials played down the significance of the meeting, which they said Moscow had requested to seek EU cooperation to combat fraudulent labeling of food exports to Russia designed to circumvent Russian bans on imports from the European Union.
Yevgeny Nepoklonov, deputy head of Russian food hygiene agency Rosselkhoznadzor, told reporters in Brussels that he and the deputy head of the Federal Customs Service proposed that the Commission provide electronic versions of veterinary and other certificates to Russia to combat document fraud on paper.
Responding to sanctions imposed by the EU, United States and other powers over Moscow's seizure of territory from Ukraine last year, Russia banned imports of a range of foods and other produce from the EU. It had also previously banned pork, in January 2014, citing health concerns which the EU has disputed.
"The EU side took note of the Russian concerns," an EU official said.
Nepoklonov cited Russian seizures of large quantities of pork labeled as coming from non-EU Montenegro and salmon supposedly from Iceland among fraudulent shipments organized by criminal gangs against which Moscow wanted EU cooperation.
The European Union has linked any easing of sanctions on Russia to Moscow's observance of a peace deal with Ukraine by the end of the year. It is pursuing action against the Russian pork ban at the World Trade Organization.
(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald, editing by David Evans)