EU stresses single voice in trade negotiations

Trade negotiations are an exclusive policy of the European Union and member states need to speak in one voice with other countries, the European Commission said Tuesday, ahead of talks this week between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Greece΄s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Mr. Tsipras will be in Moscow on Wednesday and Thursday. His government has been very critical of EU sanctions on Russia which were imposed because of Moscow΄s role in the Ukraine crisis last year.

Russia imposed a ban on EU fruit and other agricultural exports last summer in retaliation for the economic restrictions the EU put in place in July 2014.

Greek officials say Mr. Tsipras will discuss the possibility of exempting Greek agricultural products from Russia΄s counter-sanctions against the EU with Russian officials.

Athens has already asked Moscow to reduce the price of Russian natural gas sold to Greece. But no decisions on those two issues are expected to come out of the visit.

“We expect that all member states are treated equally and we expect as well that all member states speak with one voice to all our trade partners, including Russia,” said European Commission spokesman Daniel Rosario.

Mr. Rosario said he would not engage in speculation about what could come out of Mr. Tsipras΄s trip. He said “we΄re not talking about legal instruments that can be used against a member state.”

However he said any side agreement between Russia and any EU member state on trade would need to be reviewed on a “case-by-case basis.”

Mr. Rosario said the Russian agricultural export ban was a “politically motivated and unjustified decision.”

In recent months Mr. Putin has moved to deepen ties with several EU government including Greece, Cyprus and Hungary, in an apparent bid to play on divisions within the bloc on its Russia policy.

Mr. Tsipras has called EU sanctions on Russia a dead end, although he has stopped short of saying he would veto the extension of economic sanctions which would need to be renewed in July. The extension of the sanctions would requires the backing of all 28 member states of the EU.

The European Commission negotiates on behalf of member states on trade deals with other countries, like the U.S. and Korea.

However member states have the right to pursue their own trade policies as long as they don΄t contravene EU law.