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MOSCOW, June 26. European cheeses will not be imported into Russia in the coming year but French, Italian and Spanish wines favored by Russians will stay in food stores after all.
Russia’s food embargo helps domestic agricultural producers but has its own advantages and disadvantages like any embargo, and a ban on imports should take various factors into account, experts say.
The Russian market is not ready for extending the food embargo to wines and confectionary, Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachyov said on Friday.
According to the minister, the supply volumes of these products can’t be substituted today and a ban on European wine imports will primarily affect domestic consumers.
"We proceed, above all, from the consumer interests because if we banned wine and confectionary, this would have a very negative effect on the food balance in our country, above all," the agriculture minister said.
"I believe that if we substitute something, we should do this in an evolutionary way with regard to the types of foods where we do not dominate yet," Tkachyov said.
The Russian government discussed this issue but time has not come yet for making specific decisions and an analysis of the situation should be made, he added.
The Crimean Grape and Wine Bureau suggested on Thursday that the Russian government should consider imposing an embargo on the supplies of European wine products.
Crimean wine makers, which were banned by the European Union to supply their products to the EU market, believe they are in unequal conditions with European competitors. They say European wine makers bring their products to Russia while Crimea’s Massandra, Novy Svet and Magarach are not allowed for supplies to Europe.
Crimean wine makers sent a similar request to Russian President Vladimir Putin about nine months ago.
"We’re considering this as unfair competition. We were simply edged out from the European markets and in a quite selective manner," Bureau Head Yanina Pavlenko said.
Customs statistics suggest that Russia imported 24.1 million decaliters (dal) of wine in 2014. The main wine suppliers from the EU were France (4.6 million dal), Spain (3.7 million dal), Italy (3.6 million dal) and Germany (1.3 million dal). According to Russia’s State Statistics Service Rosstat data, wine production in Russia amounted to 47.7 million dal last year.
The European Union extended on June 22 its sanctions against Russia until January 31, 2016. On June 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on prolonging Russia’s counter-sanctions until August 5, 2016. Russia’s countermeasures involve a ban on the imports of beef, poultry, pork, dairy products, live, chilled and frozen fish and shellfish, nuts, fruits and vegetables.
The Russian government published on Thursday a new list of foods banned for imports from the countries that supported anti-Russian sanctions.
The list has remained mainly unchanged from last year and has only extended to lactose-free cheese products from the EU countries, Norway, the United States, Canada and Australia.
A loophole in legislation allowed importing ordinary cheeses until now. Premium wine and confectionary, which were widely discussed as the products that could be banned for imports, were not included in the list.
"Russia, which announces counter-sanctions to many types of products, cannot substitute them with its own produce," the Newsru.com web portal quoted Alexei Kanevsky, head of the Moscow branch of Opora Rosiii small and medium business association, as saying.
"Moreover, when domestic wine producers succeed in creating good wine, it will differ from and will never replace French and Italian wines from the viewpoint of quality," the expert said.
"Any embargo is a measure that has its weak and strong points," Elmira Krylatykh, academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences and one of the authors of the Russian food security concept, told TASS.
To some extent, Russian producers use it for import substitution. If domestic products become competitive amid an embargo, enter the market and even win some segments of the external market, especially the eastern market, as was the case with vegetable oils and partially with potatoes, for example, this measure is undoubtedly an advantage, the expert said.
"However, when an embargo begins to be extended in time and comes to cover new items, this causes caution about whether this results from the lobbyist pressure of some producers wishing to gain competitive advantages without taking efforts for improving the quality of their products," the expert said.
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