NEWS

Farmers anxious as Russian food embargo looms

As government officials prepare for the fallout of a Russian embargo on food imports from the European Union, with talks scheduled to take place in Moscow on Monday between Greek diplomats and Russian food inspection officers, trucks loaded with fruit and other would-be exports have been returning to Greece.

Greek diplomats continued their contacts with Russian counterparts over the weekend in a bid to secure an exemption for Greek products from the food ban. But initial hopes buoyed by Russian reassurances of an exemption appeared to fade over the weekend amid reports that Moscow had launched talks with Ankara in a bid to cover the potential shortfall in Russian food supplies.

Government officials sought to play down the potential impact of the Russian embargo, with Deputy Development Minister Notis Mitarakis repeating that Russia accounts for only 1.5 percent of Greek exports. Still, certain Greek farmers face major repercussions if the ban goes ahead without any exemptions. In the regions of Pella and Imathia in northern Greece for instance, around half of the fruit produced is exported to Russia.

Over the weekend, the first trucks piled with peaches from those regions crossed the border back into Greece as Russian importers cancelled their orders, awaiting a final decision by the government in Moscow. In Imathia alone, some 9,000 tons of produce remained in refrigeration over the weekend. Meanwhile, producers called for the fruit in the cancelled consignments to be destroyed in a bid to ensure that prices remain at a reasonable level (as channeling the fruit into the Greek market would create a glut that would lead prices to fall). Farmers said they would seek compensation for their losses from the European Commission.

Kremlin officials are expected to finalize the list of banned exports early this week. A meeting of agricultural experts from all 28 EU member states has been arranged for Thursday in Brussels in a bid to gauge the impact of Moscow’s actions.

Meanwhile, in a last-ditch bid to secure an exemption for Greece, leftist MEP Manolis Glezos wrote to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the weekend, appealing to the latter’s “sense of humanity” and asking him to “reconsider your decision as regards Greek farmers.”

The SYRIZA MP referred to traditional close ties between Athens and Moscow, and to Greece’s active support for Russia on many occasions through history, noting that Greece was one of very few countries that did not dispatch troops against the Soviet Union in World War II. He appealed for an exemption from the ban.

“I ask you not to enforce the embargo for Greek agricultural produce and hope you heed my words,” he said, referring to “the extreme deprivations” that crisis-hit Greeks are already suffering. The veteran leftist also distanced himself from the ruling Greek coalition, and the latter’s stance on the crisis in Ukraine, noting that the government “has clearly lost its popular support.”

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