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Warsaw says Russia’s ban on most fruit and vegetable imports from Poland has nothing to do with food safety, as Moscow contends, but is political retaliation for new, tough Western sanctions on Russia, particularly its lucrative oil sector.
Alexei Alekseenko, a spokesman for Russia’s Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Service, issued a statement on July 30, a day after the new sanctions were announced, saying Russia will limit imports of Polish fruit, citing “the violation of certification and the identification of quarantine products.”
The EU expressed surprise at Moscow’s move and said it was studying the details of the ban. Russia is the EU’s biggest customer of produce, buying more than 2 billion euros worth fruit and vegetables each year from the bloc. Previously, it has been accused of using food safety as a pretext to limit trade from countries with which it has political disputes.
As soon as Moscow announced the ban, Poland’s Agriculture Ministry responded with a statement saying, “The embargo amounts to political repression in response to the sanctions imposed by the European Union against Russia.”
Poland exports more apples than any other country in the world. The Agriculture Ministry in Warsaw said that last year it exported 438 million euros’ worth of apples, 56 percent of them going to Russia. Because of the ban, Witold Boguta of Poland’s Association of Fruit and Vegetable Producers told Reuters, “I’m expecting the Polish apple producers to suffer.”
At the same time, Moscow says it is considering wider import bans, including poultry from the United States, fruit from other European countries and is even investigating the safety of cheese used on McDonald’s sandwiches sold in Russia. And one Russian legislator is drafting a bill that would prevent U.S. accounting firms from operating in Russia.
A U.S. poultry ban could be significant. The USA Poultry & Egg Export Council reports that last year Russia was the second-largest market, after Mexico, for U.S. chicken, including $309 million worth of small fowl called broiler chickens.
“This is not a surprise,” Mike Cockrell, chief financial officer at Sanderson Farms Inc. (SAFM) of Laurel, Miss., told Bloomberg News. “It’s not unusual for Russia to find something wrong when they have a political reason to do so.”
The new sanctions by the EU and the United States sharply restrict the sales of equipment for Russia’s oil and defense industries and impose strict limits on state-controlled banks’ access to Western capital. The actions are the West’s effort to punish Russia for annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and to persuade Moscow to end its support of pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels.
Sanctions imposed earlier this year were increased after a Malaysian jetliner was shot down July 17 over a region of eastern Ukraine controlled by the rebels, killing all 298 people aboard. The EU and the United States say what brought down the plane was a sophisticated surface-to-air missile provided by Russia.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com