By Constantinos Psillides
CITRUS farmers asked the Cyprus government yesterday to separate its position from that of the rest of the EU on the matter of sanctions against Russia, so the country’s ban on imports from EU countries is lifted for Cypriot farmers.
Following a meeting at the commerce and industry ministry aiming at assessing the fallout from Russia’s food embargo on EU member states, representatives from farmers’ unions expressed their worry over the retaliatory move by Moscow.
Russia announced the import ban on EU food products last week in response to the tightened EU sanctions implemented at the end of July against Russia for their involvement in the Ukraine crisis
In 2013 citrus exports to Russia reached €10.7 million. The total export volume that will be affected was around €13.5 million in 2013, including citrus, fish, vegetables, dairy, and fruit.
“This meeting should be done at a political level,” said farmers’ union PEK general secretary Michalis Litras, adding that the EU decision was devastating for Cypriot farmers. “We should have adopted a different stance. In my opinion, we should have abstained from that decision.”
Head of the citrus producers and exporters association George Ioannides said that the sector would suffer heavy losses.
“It’s highly doubtful that any packaging factory will work this year. We will not only lose money now but next year too.
Farmers will abandon their fields and that will be a blow not only to their families but to the Cyprus economy in general.”
EKA general secretary Panikos Hambas told the press that more than 2,500 families would be directly affected by the embargo. Hambas claimed that Cyprus is the first of the EU member states to suffer a heavy financial and social blow from the embargo.
“The biggest loss is that Cyprus will lose its footing in the Russian market, something we have fought long and hard to get and maintain. It will be very hard to get back that market,” said Hambas, adding that the market will be flooded by Turkish Cypriot products that will be relabelled Turkish so they can be exported to Russia.
The meeting at the ministry concluded that Cyprus would seek compensation from the EU for the loss of income stemming from the Russian food ban, along with exploring alternative markets for citrus products.
Hambas dismissed the idea of looking for alternative markets, saying that Cyprus would have to compete with all other citrus farmers and end selling their goods at a much lower price.
“We ask the government to separate its position on the sanctions. We should have nothing to do with such policies.”
Agriculture minister Nicos Kouyialis said on Monday that Cyprus, along with other member states, would seek compensation from the EU on account of the prolonged drought.
Kouyialis had said that an extraordinary meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries ministerial council has been called to deal with the problem of drought and that the effects of the Russian embargo would also be discussed.
An experts meeting in Brussels today is expected to set up the agenda for the coming meeting. Both Kouyialis and Trade Service Director Nelly Koulia asked the farmers to wait for the conclusion of the experts meeting to decide on further action.
Koulia, who talked to the press after the meeting, said that a comprehensive note would be submitted to all competent ministers, in order to take appropriate action. She added that the issue of compensation would be decided at EU level.
The Trade Service Director did not preclude, however, a chain reaction on other sectors of the economy and said that the issue at stake now was “to minimise the impact”.