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EU butter buyers risk food safety concerns

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European butter buyers have been sourcing supplies from Ukraine, despite concerns about compliance with food safety regulations.

It began with a shipment of 80 tonnes in February, but imports have since picked up pace, with a total of 1,320 tonnes purchased up until June.

The shipments demonstrate the desperation of industrial buyers who have faced a doubling of wholesale prices in the past year.

Up until now, in food terms, Ukraine has been notable only for supplying honey to the European market.

Ukraine had a record of being blamed for non-compliance with international standards, a leading consultant told the IEG Vu Policy publication EU Food Law.

A EU-Ukraine Association Agreement has been fully in force since September 1 this year. The agreement, signed in 2015, offered Ukrainian authorities a framework for an extensive harmonisation of legislation, including the one on food safety.

Strict import rules set by the EU with respect to food safety aim to ensure that all imports from Ukraine fulfil the same high standards as products from the EU itself.

However, some members of the European Parliament have questioned on numerous occasions the safety of food from Ukraine. One incident involved the detection of antimicrobial substances in honey exports to the Czech Republic.

Legislation passed this year introduces a system of control of food safety in Ukraine which is supposed to be similar to that in Europe, writes Katia Merten-Lentz of international law firm, Keller & Heckman.

It is expected enter into force on 4 April 2018, and will facilitate the activity of food business operators.

'The implementation and enforcement of Ukrainian food regulation remains a concern'

There have been greater EU imports from Ukraine since the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) agreement came into force on January 1 2016.

Compliance with the EU rules could help Ukrainian manufacturers gain other international markets. And deep harmonisation of Ukrainian food and consumer safety legislation with the EU system could be a better stimulus for food trade growth than a decrease in tariffs, says Merten-Lentz.

“For EU food manufacturers, the outlook also seems to be positive,” she writes. “As Ukrainian legislation has progressively been brought in line with EU standards, EU exporters will encounter less technical trade barriers.

“Similar regulation will help to reduce costs for EU food business operators and will create favourable conditions for investment. That having said, the risk of proper implementation and enforcement of new Ukrainian food legislation remains a concern for EU business.”

Ukraine is a small, but growing export market for EU manufacturers, worth EUR28 mln in the first half of this year; most of this was cheese (EUR17 mln).

EU exports declined last year, down from EUR58 mln in 2015 to EUR49 mln. As well as cheese, Ukrainian customers bought buttermilk, butter, whey, liquid milk, condensed milk and WMP.

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