WASHINGTON – Russian diners soon won’t be able to find creamy Dutch cheeses or juicy Polish apples in the grocery store or cook up chicken from the United States – the result of a ban on most food imports from the West.
Although the United States, Canada and the European Union together will take more than a $17.5 billion hit, Russian consumers might feel it more than Western farmers.
Jason Furman, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, shrugged off the import ban’s impact as negligible, in contrast to Western sanctions on Russian individuals, businesses and economic sectors that he said have sent investors fleeing Russia and made a weak Russian economy even weaker.
There’s a “cruel irony” in Russia’s import ban, said David Cohen, the U.S. Treasury Department undersecretary in charge of economic sanctions.
“What the Russians have done here is limit the Russian people’s access to food,” Cohen said. “We don’t do that. Our law doesn’t allow us to do that.”
The United States exports about $1.2 billion in food and agricultural goods to Russia, less than 1 percent of total U.S. agriculture exports. The EU exports the equivalent of about $15.8 billion to Russia, about 10 percent of its total agriculture exports. Canada’s agricultural exports to Russia amounted to the equivalent of $515 million, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
In the EU, Poland, France, the Netherlands and Germany will feel much of the loss.
The Netherlands sends the equivalent of $2 billion worth of agricultural products to Russia annually; Germany $2.1 billion; France 1.6 billion; and Poland $2.1 billion.
Poland is Europe’s largest producer of apples; more than half of its production goes to Russia.
Russia’s ban on Polish apples, which was announced last week, led to a popular campaign in Poland, with media and officials urging citizens to eat more apples and drink more ciders. A widely used slogan was “An apple a day keeps Putin away!”
The Russian import ban could affect the France’s fruit and vegetable industry, said Xavier Beulin, president of a French farm union.
“Russia is a significant market for us, and one that grows by about 10 percent each year. It’s not trivial,” he told European television network LCI.
Albert Jan Maat, chairman of the Dutch Federation of Agriculture and Horticulture, warned the Russian ban will cause prices to drop across Europe because of oversupply. He called on the Dutch government and the EU to help farmers.
The ban also dealt a blow to Norway’s fishing industry. The Norwegian Seafood Federation said Russia was its biggest single market last year.
The impact is less in the United States. The largest U.S. export to Russia is poultry, mainly chicken, followed by tree nuts and soybeans.
Russia buys a little more than $300 million in U.S. chicken annually, about 7 percent of the industry’s total exports said a statement from the National Chicken Council and the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council.
The EU and the United States already have seen hits to Russian exports in recent years as Russia has scrutinized and limited meat imports. In 2012, Russia bought almost $300 million in U.S. beef and $268 million in U.S. pork. Those numbers respectively dropped to $1 million and $17 million in 2013 after Russia imposed limits on those products because of a feed additive, ractopamine, used in the United States.
Other countries have had similar issues with Russia – the amount of pork meat exported from Germany to Russia from January to May 2013 was 83,000 tons, but fell to 9,000 tons a year later amid sanitary import restrictions, according to Germany’s farmer lobby group DBV.
The biggest impact could be on Russian consumers. Russia received up to 55 percent of its agricultural imports from the countries it so far has sanctioned, including the United States, European Union, Ukraine, Australia and Canada, according to an Associated Press analysis of figures from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
Almost half of Russia’s meat imports – about 47 percent – in 2013 came from the countries it has slapped sanctions on, according to FAO figures. Russia likely will import more from its other main suppliers, namely Brazil and Paraguay.
About 95 percent of Russia’s dairy imports last year came from countries it now has sanctioned, with its biggest suppliers until now being Ukraine, the Netherlands, Germany, Lithuania, Finland and Poland.
Alexis Rodzianko, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, played down the effects of the import bans on Russian food supplies.
“The price will go up and the selection will go down, but basically I think Russia can feed itself now,” Rodzianko said.
Many U.S. food companies that sell to Russia already have set up some operations there. A spokeswoman for Mondelez International, which makes Oreos and Chips Ahoy cookies and Ritz crackers, said the company uses local suppliers and local production facilities.
Springdale, Ark.,-based Tyson Foods – one of the world’s larger processors of chicken, beef and pork – will send the chicken the company usually ships to Russia to the other 130 other markets the company sells to, spokesman Worth Sparkman said.
Russia is not as big a market as it once was, said Mike Cockrell of Laurel, Miss.,-based Sanderson Farms.
But, “An 87.5 million-pound customer is a good customer, and we’ll have to replace that,” Cockrell said.
Associated Press writers Lynn Berry, Lori Hinnant, Toby Sterling, Pan Pylas, Charmaine Noronha, Candice Choi, Josh Lederman and Justin Juozapavicius contributed to this report.