Russia has lifted a ban on dairy imports from two firms in Serbia, the government's food health service said on Saturday, in an apparent attempt to woo the European Union membership candidate amid Moscow's standoff with the West.
Earlier this month, Russia introduced a one-year embargo on meat, fish, dairy, fruit and vegetables from the United States, the EU, Canada, Australia and Norway, in retaliation for Western economic sanctions over the Ukraine conflict.
Moscow has been searching for new suppliers and has asked several countries, such as Brazil, to increase exports of food to Russia to offset the impact of the sanctions.
The veterinary and phytosanitary service Rosselkhoznadzor said on Saturday that it has included two Serbian firms in the list of the companies which are allowed to sell dairy produce to Russia and its Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan.
It said the firms had previously been banned for unspecified breaches of food regulations on a recent, unspecified date.
The service has lifted the ban just as the EU has asked new candidates, including Serbia, not to exploit the Kremlin's ban on Western food imports.
"Why now? Maybe the Serbs want to use the current situation and get into the (Russian) market as far as it can get," a spokesman for the service told Reuters.
Some Serbian food producers, particularly fruit farmers, have reported a spike in demand from Russia, but capacity is limited. In 2013, just 7.2 percent of Serbia's total exports worth some $65 million, went to Russia. (Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Stephen Powell)