Russia, Belarus hold talks over re-export of banned Western food

MINSK/MOSCOW Tue Aug 12, 2014 1:18pm EDT

A worker arranges cheese for sale at a grocery store in St. Petersburg August 11, 2014. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

A worker arranges cheese for sale at a grocery store in St. Petersburg August 11, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Alexander Demianchuk

MINSK/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Moscow dispatched top veterinary officials to Belarus on Tuesday after the neighboring country, which has a free trade zone with Russia, said it would not become a back-door conduit for banned Western food products.

Last week Russia banned imports of fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, scallops, milk and dairy from the United States, the European Union, Australia, Canada and Norway in retaliation for Western sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine.

Since the ban was imposed, Russian media have been flooded with jokes that Moscow will soon see supplies of oysters and shrimps coming from landlocked Belarus, which together with Kazakhstan has a free trade deal with Russia as part of the customs union between the three states.

Both Belarus and Kazakhstan have said they will continue to import the Western foods that Moscow has banned.

Minsk has said, however, it will prevent banned foods from being shipped onward to Russia.

"If Russia has closed its market for certain products, we must not allow the transit of these products via Belarus to Russia," Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko was quoted as saying by his administration this week.

"As to our domestic market, we had a separate discussion of this question. It's our internal deal. If we need Polish apples, we buy them, but not for Russia," Lukashenko said.

On Tuesday, Sergei Dankvert, the head of Russia's veterinary regulator, and other officials from the agency traveled to Minsk for talks. A delegation from Belarus was expected in Moscow on Wednesday.

Belarus is Russia's closest ally, relying on Moscow for cheap energy and serving as a buffer zone between Russia and NATO nations.

Importers say that small scale re-exports could still reach Russia but that large operations were unlikely.

"On the one hand, Belarussian companies may be interested in benefiting from this. On the other hand, there is a risk of seriously damaging relations with Russia," said Viktor Markelov, the head of the Belarussian Confederation of Entrepreneurship.

Belarus hopes to significantly increase export volumes to Russia of the food it produces such as pasta, vegetables, grocery products and confectionery, Belarussian Agriculture Minister Leonid Zayats told local media last week.

Belarus supplied food products worth $1 billion to Russia in January-March, mainly milk, dairy products and meat.

In Kazakhstan, the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev has said Moscow's food bans are "a unilateral act".

Russia last year imported $17.2 billion worth of food from the countries covered by the sanctions, of which $9.2 billion was in the affected categories, according to the International Trade Centre, a joint venture of the United Nations and World Trade Organization.

(Reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow, Andrei Makhovsky in Minsk and Dmitry Solovyov in Almaty; Editing by Dmitry Zhdannikov and Jane Baird)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (6)
speakfreely wrote:
Countries that Russia has imposed bans against should NOT ship more than they have been shipping to Belarus and to Kazakhstan. Otherwise, those countries will be undercutting their own power and the power of the EU over Russia.

Aug 12, 2014 9:47am EDT  --  Report as abuse
mcgriff wrote:
I doubt elite Russians in Moscow will be even slightly inconvenienced by this so-called ban on foreign foodstuffs.
In a profoundly corrupt society, where the leaders and the oligarchs are joined at the hip, and wallow in obscene ostentatious wealth, they will still have their delicacies.
If the middle class and the less fortunate have to stand in line again for certain goods, or just do without- oh well.

Aug 12, 2014 10:30am EDT  --  Report as abuse
bravo-six wrote:
this is fantastic, there will be bootleggers doing cattle drives into Russia for years to come. haha

Aug 12, 2014 3:56pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.