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Russia says food import ban could end only if West lifts sanctions — minister

Russia had to respond with an embargo after Russia's largest lenders were added to the EU's sanctions which made Russian farmers unable to compete

BERLIN, January 20. /TASS/. Russia will lift its embargo on food imports from the West only “if the West adjusts its anti-Russia sanctions”, Agriculture Minister Nikolay Fyodorov said in newspaper comments on Tuesday.

The European Union and the United States imposed economic sanctions on Russia in late July, targeting the Russian energy, banking and defense sectors as punishment for Moscow’s alleged reluctance to curb violence in eastern Ukraine.

In retaliation, Moscow has banned most Western food imports, worth $9 billion a year.

Speaking in an interview with German financial daily Handelsblatt, Fyodorov said he hopes that relations between Russia and the West will normalize soon.

“However, it is 100% clear that the ball is in the West’s court,” he said, recalling that about €27 billion worth of agricultural loans was called into question after the EU imposed sanctions against two Russian major creditors to the farm sector.

Russia's largest lender Sberbank and Russian Agricultural Bank were added to the EU's sanctions list in August, preventing them from accessing the EU capital markets.

“Russian agricultural producers have not been able to compete on equal and fair terms with others since then,” the minister told Handelsblatt, adding that this posed a bankruptcy threat to farmers and a threat to the country's national security.

“We had to respond and introduced an embargo against European, American, Australian and Canadian food products,” Fyodorov said, noting also that Russian agricultural producers had welcomed the counter-measures.

“We managed to boost our own agriculture and replace imports from the US and the EU with supplies from South Africa, South America, Turkey, China, Iran and other countries,” he said, adding that some €8.5 billion has lately been allocated to develop the country’s farm sector.

The food ban announced at the start of August bars imports of meat, fish, dairy, fruit and vegetables from the United States, the 28-nation European Union, Canada, Australia and Norway for one year.

Since then, Russia has been in talks with Latin and South American countries, the Middle East and Asia to replace prohibited produce.