ISLAMABAD, Nov 14: A team of Russian experts, which was scheduled to arrive here on Thursday to discuss lifting of a ban on import of fruits and vegetables from Pakistan, has postponed their trip apparently as a reaction to the state of emergency in the country, sources told Dawn.

Officials of the Russian Federal Veterinary and Phyto-sanitary Surveillance Service (VPSS) had planned their visit after a visit by the Pakistani delegation to Russia in August this year to discuss lifting of ban on Pakistani rice and horticultural products.

Earlier, a VPSS team had visited Pakistan and handed a list of its sanitary requirements to be met before regaining imports.

In mid-2006, Russia had banned import of Pakistani rice after finding a shipment infected allegedly with dangerous pest, Khapra beetle. It is also not importing Pakistani fruits on sanitary and phytosanitary grounds.

“The Russian delegation will now give us a new date of their arrival, so these talks are getting delayed” an official of the federal ministry of food, agriculture and livestock (Minfal) told Dawn.

He said the Russian team was scheduled to meet officials of the Pakistan Horticulture Development and Export Board (PHDEB) and Minfal and conduct field visits, particularly to the kinnoo orchards.

“Now it seems as if there will be no progress on this issue at least until next year,” he observed.

The delay in the talks on horticulture products has consequently pushed back holding of a similar meeting on the issue of restarting import of Pakistani rice to Russia.

Russia harvested an all-time high rice crop of 685,000 tons in 2006, compared with 575,000 tons in 2005.

Sources in the Minfal said the Russian ban was shown as if driven by health-related reasons, but was actually meant to discourage imports to enable local growers take good prices for their crop.

Moscow used to import 400,000-500,000 tons of rice per year until it imposed a tariff of 70 euros ($92.32) per ton in April 2005. Imports shrank to 300,000-350,000 tons after that, analysts said.

Pakistan used to export about 200,000 tons of rice to Russia.

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