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Poland's Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki chairs an EU agriculture and fisheries ministers meeting at the EU Council in Brussels September 20, 2011. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

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WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland has asked the European Commission to lodge a formal complaint to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over a Russian ban on EU food products that has hit Poland particularly hard, the Polish Economy Ministry said on Tuesday.

The Commission has so far been cautious about taking the embargo case to the WTO, with lawyers in Brussels advising that doing so could escalate the conflict with Russia over Ukraine.

Russia has banned the import of EU food products including fruit and vegetables from Poland, whose total food exports to Russia were worth around $1.5 bln last year.

The ban was imposed in response to Western economic sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and a pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine that Western capitals accuse Moscow of fomenting.

Poland's economy ministry told Reuters it had sent the request to European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, who represents EU members in all WTO cases.

After a meeting with the Commissioner on Tuesday, Poland's Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki said that preliminary EU consultations were under way and that first decisions on the lawsuit could be made as soon as Sept. 12.

"The United States', Australia and Canada's opinion will also be important," Sawicki was quoted as saying by Polish state news agency PAP. "I believe Deputy Prime Minister (Janusz) Piechocinski will engage in talks with those countries."

European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said in an emailed statement the Commission, the EU executive, was carefully analysing the impact of the Russian embargo.

"Regarding the WTO, the Commissioner informed the minister (Sawicki) that the Commission is actively preparing a procedure for a possible launching of a request for consultations under the WTO dispute settlement procedure," Stano said.

The WTO, should it rule in favour of any Commission complaint, could fine Russia for violating regulations on open markets. But Sawicki said Russia was not responding to pressure from the EU or the United States.

The EU argues its sanctions have been imposed in defence of Ukraine's sovereignty. Russia argues it is playing no role in arming, advising or promoting rebellion in eastern Ukraine.

On April 8, the European Commission opened a WTO dispute against the Russian embargo on EU pork imposed earlier this year.

(Reporting By Wiktor Szary; Additional Reporting By Marcin Goettig and Barbara Lewis in Brussels; editing by Ralph Boulton)

Reuters