EU seeks to take sting out of Russia food ban -

Friday 15 August 2014 16.30
Russian food ban - Commission tries to stave off price falls on food products
Russian food ban - Commission tries to stave off price falls on food products

The European Commission will announce more help for EU fruit and vegetable producers early next week to try to stave off a price collapse after Russia's ban on most Western food imports. 

Russia has declared a one-year embargo on meat, fish, dairy, fruit and vegetables from the US, the European Union, Canada, Australia and Norway in retaliation for Western sanctions over Moscow's actions in Ukraine. 

Analysts say Russia could be inflicting the sharpest pain on itself because it will drive up food prices for its consumers and stoke inflation. 

But EU farmers are concerned that the gluts of fresh fruit and other produce they face will sap the value of their products on the European market.

The European Commission, the EU executive, has already announced support for peach and nectarine growers, increasing the amount of surplus production that can be withdrawn from the market and distributed free while compensating producers financially. 

It says it plans similar steps to help growers of produce such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and mushrooms. 

The Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, earlier this week that it is estimated that only €10-15m of Irish food exports to Russia will be directly affected by Russia's decision. Bord Bia had originally estimated that the sanctions would affect around €70m worth of exports. 

"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," Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos said in a statement after an emergency meeting of EU farm experts. 

"I am prepared to propose EU-wide measures as and when needed," the Commissioner added. 

Following reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy completed in 2013, the union has an emergency fund of €420m to compensate producers for sudden market distortions. 

In all, EU farm exports to Russia are worth about €11 billion a year, about 10% of all EU agricultural sales. 

Other measures under consideration are efforts to improve marketing strategies domestically and in new markets. EU officials said they were also looking at trying to dissuade alternative suppliers - such as Brazil and Egypt - from selling to Russia the food Moscow will no longer receive from Europe or other Western nations. 

One option could be to take a case to the World Trade Organisation, though lawyers in Brussels have said that could be a mistake when the EU's main concern is to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis.