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EU seeks to take sting out of Russia food ban

By Staff Reporter

AGRICULTURAL officials from all 28 European Union countries held emergency talks on Thursday and agreed to introduce measures early next week to help farmers whose perishable fruit and vegetable produce have been hurt most by Russia’s counter-measures to western sanctions against Moscow.

All experts at the meeting called for the €420m EU emergency fund to be released in order to balance the impact of Russia’s ban on Western food imports and to compensate EU farmers.

Commissioner Dacian Cioloș, who chaired the meeting in Brussels, said that “as of early next week, I will come forward with the next market stabilisation measure, targeting a number of perishable fruit and vegetable products which are now clearly in difficulty. This action will be proportionate and cost effective.”

He added that this “exceptional situation” as a result of Russia’s ban requires faster and better access to market data, sector by sector.

“That is why we are putting in place as of today a reinforced market monitoring mechanism to which all member states will contribute. Meetings with member states will take place on a weekly basis, for a period as long as necessary,” he said.

The Commissioner added that he was prepared to propose EU wide measures as and when needed.

“Producers from across the EU can be reassured. We are following every sector and every market and as material risks emerge, I will act. Through the reformed Common Agriculture Policy we have the budgetary and legal instruments for European action together with the member states; market confidence through European solidarity is the overriding objective.”

The meeting also looked into potential alternative sales outlets, as well as a preliminary analysis of the main sectors worst affected by the Russian measures – fruit, vegetables, dairy and meat products.

The experts admitted that the situation is the most urgent for certain perishable vegetables hit by the ban, where the season has already begun and a key export market has suddenly disappeared with no immediate prospect of an obvious alternative.

Further measures targeting animal products are being considered, in the same way that it announced support measures for the peaches and nectarines sector on Monday. Support for that sector, primarily affecting Italy, Spain, France and Greece, consists of increasing the amount of fruit that can be withdrawn from the market to 10 per cent from 5 per cent. The producers will be compensated – by some €20-30m in total – for the withdrawn fruit, which is given away to institutions such as hospitals, schools and prisons.

Russia announced last week 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 Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

In all, EU farm exports to Russia are worth €11bn a year, roughly 10 per cent of all EU agricultural sales.

The biggest impact for Cyprus is the citrus fruit, with this sector accounting for about €10.7m in exports to Russia alone, with a further €2.3m in other fruit and vegetables, and meat products.

Poland is suffering from the loss of its biggest apple buyer, and France, the bloc’s leading agricultural economy, is nervous the hundreds of thousands of Polish apples Russia does not import will drive down the value of French produce.

EU agriculture ministers are also expected to review the situation further at an extraordinary meeting in early September as a follow up to Thursday’s meeting of agriculture experts.

Meanwhile, Finland’s president is to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Friday, but both governments played down prospects for any breakthrough in the crisis over Ukraine.

Finland is one of the EU states hardest hit by trade embargoes that Moscow has imposed in retaliation for EU sanctions, yet it does not want to be seen as a weak link in the European front to pressure Putin over Ukraine.

Russia is Finland’s third-biggest export market. Finnish companies are major suppliers of milk and other dairy products to Russian supermarkets.

A survey showed almost half of Finland’s companies have been hurt by the sanctions Russia and the EU have imposed on each other.

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