EU food aid `for Russian black market'

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The Independent Online
HUNDREDS OF millions of pounds of European Union food aid to Russia may be diverted to the black market or re-exported to other countries, according to a paper compiled by Britain and four other European governments.

The document is the most formal criticism of the European Commission's pounds 330m programme and underlines growing alarm that the aid will be swallowed up in Russia's chaotic distribution system.

Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday raised British concerns at a meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels where doubts were also voiced by Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister.

Many diplomats believe that medicines and drugs are higher priorities for Russia, but the food aid programme is backed by EU farm ministers anxious to dispose of surpluses. Agricultural exports have been hard hit by Russia's economic crisis.

The paper, agreed by Britain, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and Denmark, demands independent monitoring of food distribution, noting that the Commission wants the food to be distributed by Russian state companies.

"The Commission surely does have a responsibility to ensure monitoring of the distribution," the paper says, adding: "There is a risk that, without adequate controls, the food donated will be sold on the black market or will even be re-exported to other countries."

The document calls for a "third party" to monitor distribution, with different organisations tendering for the job. It argues: "Since the Commission will be obliged in any case to publish an open tender for the transport of the food aid to Russia, a tender for supply-chain monitoring would not create any significant delay."

The Commission argues that it has sought extensive guarantees from the Russian government about the fate of the aid, and of any cash generated by its sale.

But yesterday Glenys Kinnock, a member of the European Parliament's development committee, said: "We need to be sure that the food aid is properly monitored and that there are proper controls. As I see it now, these controls are not in place."

Underlying the governments' concern is the belief that Russia's problems are caused not by a shortage of food but by poor distribution. There are also worries that the influx of food aid will distort the agricultural market in Russia.

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