Blog: Dean BestBrussels to convene "task force" on Russia embargo

Dean Best | 11 August 2014

The EU said today (11 August) a "joined up" response across the bloc is needed to Russia's move to ban a swathe of food imports from the market.

Dacian Ciolos, the EU agriculture commissioner, said "senior agricultural experts" from the 28 member states will meet next Thursday to discuss what impact the embargo could have on the industry.

"I want to underline that the Common Agricultural Policy has new and modernised tools to stand by them, as soon as it is needed, including our crisis reserve, which is already available now. I am confident that our resilient farm sector will reorient rapidly towards new markets and opportunities. But there must be support to help this transition happen smoothly," Ciolos said.

"This requires a joined up, European response. I have spoken with farm ministers from across Europe. In the current context, the most important is to react in a proportionate and rapid way should the situation arise. As always when market situations require, I have already instructed my services to establish a task force to analyse the potential impacts sector by sector, and to assess how we can effectively provide meaningful support if and where this is needed. Second, my services will today call a meeting of senior agricultural experts from all EU Member States, to take place next Thursday."

Last week, Moscow banned fish, fruit, vegetables, meat, milk and dairy imports from the EU, alongside shipments from Norway, the US, Canada and Australia in retaliation for the sanctions imposed on Russia during the political crisis in Ukraine and fighting in the east of the country.

The impact of such a wide-ranging measure will of course be varied but it is likely fresh produce suppliers in Europe will be among the hardest hit. The EU exports EUR1.8bn of fruit and veg to Russia each year, according to data from European fresh produce association Freshfel. That equates to just under 2% of total EU production but is 38% of all shipments made to markets outside the EU.

A concern for producers that would otherwise have exported their goods to Russia is what happens to the excess supply now in the market and price levels. It is difficult for suppliers of such short-life products to switch to different markets and still receive the same price.

Farming organisations around Europe have warned of the consequences on producers. Spanish farmers union the Union de Pequenos Agricultores y Ganaderos said the ban represented a "serious risk" to its members. Prices of peaches and nectarines in Europe are already under pressure amid high volumes and after poor weather conditions caused fruit to ripen at different times. European farming representatives had already called on Brussels to help and there is concern in some quarters the ban from Moscow could make the situation worse.

In response, the European Commission today announced "support measures" to assist peach and nectarine growers, potentially helping farmers in Spain, Italy, France and Greece. Brussels has sought to increase the volumes of fruit eligible for withdrawal operations and free distribution.

"I will be proposing today that the European Commission take immediate, retroactive measures aimed at reducing supply and promoting demand. I have been very clear that I would not hesitate to act and use the new, modernised CAP to provide timely, proportionate and market oriented assistance – this first measure today is a signal of intent. We are monitoring markets closely and I will not hesitate to do likewise to assist other sectors dependent on exports to Russia, should it be necessary," Ciolos said.

We will find out in the coming days if Brussels will again step in for other sectors affected by Moscow's ban.

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