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French farmers worry over Russian food embargo

France exports 50,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables to Russia each year.
France exports 50,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables to Russia each year. REUTERS/Filip Klimaszewski

Russia’s reprisal against Western sanctions has caused worry in France’s already struggling agriculture sector that a ban on exports could saturate the market at home.

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Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev announced that Russia has imposed a wide-ranging ban on food and agricultural products, in effect immediately, from Europe and the United States – amounting to 35 percent of the food the vast nation consumes.

The embargo will ban a range of products from beef, pork, fruit and vegetable produce, poultry, fish, cheese, milk and dairy products – exempting only baby foods – from the EU, the US, Australia, Canada and Norway for one year, according to Medvedv.

The Kremlin's decision comes a week after the European Union slammed Russia with another round of sanctions, which for the first time targeted entire sectors of the Russian economy.

“Russia is closing its gates to imports, but it also means that the products that were originally destined for Russia will end up on the European market and it will create a crisis situation," Xavier Beulin, the president of farmers union FNSEA, told AFP.

The Kremlin also threatened to block European airlines from its airspace, causing flights to Asia to take longer routes and pay more for gas.

The EU quickly responded and said it was ready to take action in response to the blanket ban on many goods for at least one year and will swiftly look to see what sorts of impacts it could have.

With Europe standing as Russia’s second-largest food market – but representing just 0.05 percent of the EU economy – the retaliatory move is poised to wreck havoc when goods destined for Russia will be forced upon the European market.

Analysts say it could saturate the market and lower prices.

Products from France represent 3.8 percent of total food and agricultural imports to Russia – making France its eighth largest trading partner – according to France’s agricultural ministry.

France exported almost 1.2 billion euros worth of agriculture products to Russia last year – and in 2012, 6.5 percent of its total exports in agriculture went to Russia.

However, these figures also include alcohol, such as Champagne, and will not be included in the embargo.

In tangible terms, the ban would prevent some 50,000 tonnes of French fruits and vegetables – mainly apples – from entering Russia, totalling 48 million euros last year.

For Eric Guash, an apple farmer in Avignon in the South of France, 80 percent of his apple stock goes to Russia, according to the French daily 20 minutes.

He told 20 minutes that because this market is already fragile such an embargo could lead some to close their operations.

However, the self-inflicted move will concurrently carve out a massive portion of available foods and products in Russia.

But Moscow hailed the news as positive for local producers and said it would work to prevent price increases and could open Russia up to new markets.

“The risk for Europe is that some market shares could be taken by Asia or Latin America and after it would be very difficult to get this market back,” said Luc Barbier, the president of the Federation of French Fruit Producers (FNPF) to AFP.

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