CHISINAU (Reuters) - Wine from ex-Soviet Moldova made its way back into Russian shops on Thursday after a 20-month import ban that dealt a heavy economic blow to Europe’s poorest country.
Russia banned wine imports from both Moldova and Georgia in 2005, saying much of it was dangerous to consumers. Moldova denounced the ban as punishment to both countries for their attempts to move closer to Europe.
The ban was lifted after Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin gradually took steps to mend ties with Russia and measures were taken to improve the quality of the wine.
“Today, the first shipment passed through Russian customs and has been unloaded at a Moscow warehouse,” said Iurie Mudria, export manager at Moldova-Vin, the government department overseeing the wine industry.
Moldova is highly dependent on exports of wine and other food products to Russia, but officials recently acknowledged the need to uphold production standards and have worked closely with experts from Russia’s Rospotrebnadzor inspectorate.
Voronin and Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin announced the lifting of the ban last November, but it has taken nearly a year to resume shipments. Officials said 20 out of 179 plants had authorisation to export and were readying production lines.
“Our firm was the first to resume exports to Russia,” said Iurie Draga, commercial director of the joint Moldovan-Russian Calaras-Divin plant.
“The first truck with Divin (cognac) is being unloaded today after passing through customs and is being delivered to stores.”
Rospotrebnadzor confirmed the return of Moldovan wines, saying on its Internet site that 15 suppliers had been cleared to supply 289 types of wine and cognac.
It said a security label affixed to each bottle would enable consumers to view its origin, producer and production history.
Voronin, the only communist president of an ex-Soviet state, irritated Russia by accusing the Kremlin of abetting separatists running their own state in Moldova’s Transdniestria region.
Like Georgia’s leaders, Voronin has launched moves to join the European Union and in recent months he has improved ties with Moscow.
In 2005, 80 per cent of Moldovan alcohol exports went to Russia with sales abroad totalling $313 million (151 million pounds), Mudria said. Experts say the ban cost the economy $200 million.
After the ban Moldova penetrated other markets and exports have rallied to 60 percent of pre-ban, 2005 levels.
In the absence of Moldovan wine, Russian consumers bought more wine from Europe, Latin America and Australia, as well as wine produced in Russia itself.
Additional reporting by Chris Baldwin in Moscow