NEWS

Gov't seeks to soften blow of Russian food embargo

Government officials were seeking ways on Monday to minimize the impact of a Russian food embargo by attempting to secure reassurances from Brussels that Greek producers will be compensated for their losses while also preparing to branch out into other export markets.

In two successive meetings held at the Foreign and Finance ministries, officials are said to have finalized the government’s strategy ahead of a scheduled meeting of agricultural experts from all 28 European Union member states in Brussels on Thursday. The aim is for Athens to secure the best possible deal for compensation which Greek producers of peaches and other products are already pressing for. “Decisions regarding the size and nature of the compensation will be taken there,” government spokeswoman Sofia Voultepsi said.

According to sources, an initial assessment arrived at on Monday during a meeting chaired by Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Kourkoulas and involving senior officials from the Finance and Agricultural Development ministries put Greece’s likely losses this year at 50 million euros. Sources described the projected damage as “limited” but said that a precise estimate would not be available until full stock has been taken of all Greek exports canceled by Russian importers.

As important as the issue of compensation is the identification of new potential export markets for Greece, government officials indicated. “The EC’s reassurance regarding compensation is good and welcome but compensation will not solve the problem,” Kourkoulas said, adding that a return to the Russian market or an opening to new markets would also be required.

As Athens waits for Brussels to decide what action it will take to compensate EU farmers, Greek regional authorities are immediately to begin assessing the financial impact from the embargo. It was decided at Monday’s meeting at the Finance Ministry that regional officials would provide details about the impact the import ban will have not just on fruit and vegetable producers but also on other sectors of the economy, such as road haulage.

Any compensation on a national level will need the approval of the European Commission first otherwise it could be considered illegal state aid, which Greece will have to pay back. Athens is hoping that the Commission will approve an EU-wide program to compensate farmers and others who will lose out as a result of Russian actions.

Until any decisions are reached, the only action the government can take is to try to absorb some of the unexported fruit through the military and state hospitals.

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