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By John Helmer in Moscow

Russia has seized a shipment of Egyptian oranges at Novorossiysk port, after discovering Mediterranean fruit-fly infestation. The orange move has been reported in the Russian media as tit for tat for Egyptian moves to seize three shipments of Russian wheat since May 13.

Rosselkhoznadzor (RSN), the government’s food and farm product inspectorate, confirmed that the imported oranges have been impounded, but said this is not a retaliation for last week’s arrest by the Egyptian prosecutor-general of Russian wheat. Alexei Alexeyenko, the RSN spokesman, said the arriving citrus was inspected, and after the pest was found, the shipment has been quarantined and fumigated. In time, it will be allowed to be delivered to the consignees.

Alexeyenko also told Fairplay that two weeks after the Egyptians claim to have found infestation in 137,000 tonnes of arriving Russian wheat, there is still no official report from the government in Cairo of any contamination; and no official Egyptian government complaint. He said RSN has run special laboratory checks on grain from the same source as the wheat exported to Egypt, but no trace of weevil infestation has been found.

Alexeyenko said that traditionally, Egypt buys medium quality (4th and 5th class) wheat. “It always corresponds to the GOST [state inspection standard] and to the quality indicated in the [sale] agreement.” Alexeyenko reflects government thinking in Moscow that the Egyptian seizures are a ruse to cut the trading price of the Russian grain in the Egyptian market, and to favour competing exporters from other countries. The timing, he said, is related to the World Grain Summit, when world grain producers and buyers will assemble in St. Petersburg on June 6.

President Dmity Medvedev will also depart shortly for his first state visit to Egypt. To avoid the growing embarrassment, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit claimed this week in Moscow that “the relevant Egyptian bodies must determine whether there is a high level of bugs in the shipment and whether the shipment corresponds fully to international standards.” Since RSN says that no report has been received from the Egyptians, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded, during a press conference with Aboul Gheit, with a hint that nothing abnormal has happened at all, and that the problem will be solved soon: “In Russia and Egypt there is a bilateral mechanism to check the conformity of such products to the established norms. This mechanism is used, and what happened – this is a normal working situation.”

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