* Experts from EU member states to meet on Thursday
* EU law provides for up to 400 mln euros in compensation
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, Aug 11 European Union regulators on
Monday began analysing product-by-product the impact of a
Russian ban on EU food imports announced in retaliation for
Western sanctions over Moscow's actions in Ukraine.
But they said it was too soon to decide how much, if any, of
a 400 million euro ($535 million) EU compensation fund might be
paid out to help farmers.
European Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos interrupted
the traditional European Commission August break to return to
Brussels at the weekend, together with other senior staff, and
on Monday they set up a task force.
The aim is to work out alternative markets and to analyse
the fallout from Russia's one-year ban, announced last week, on
imports of meat, fish, dairy, fruit and vegetables from the
United States, the EU, Canada, Australia and Norway.
With some member states piling on the pressure for redress,
they could also agree to award compensation from a special fund
signed into law at the end of 2013, as part of agricultural
reforms. To date, the fund has never been used.
"We still feel it's a little bit soon to discuss the cost
implications," Roger Waite, a spokesman for the EU's executive
Commission, told reporters.
"We are looking at every product individually. We hope that
by Thursday of this week, we will be in a position to have a
clearer picture of the potential impact so that we can discuss
it with the member states."
Agricultural experts from the European Union's 28 member
states will meet in Brussels on Thursday to plan a coordinated
TIT FOR TAT
Last month, the European Union agreed its toughest sanctions
yet against Moscow in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea
and support for separatist rebels.
Moscow initially said it would not stoop to a tit-for-tat
response, but last week it took aim at Western food imports, a
move many analysts say could hurt Russian consumers more than it
affects Western exporters.
Ciolos has said he is confident the EU farm sector can
quickly find new markets for exports to Russia worth around 11
billion euros, roughly 10 percent of all EU agricultural sales
outside the bloc.
A separate Russian ban on EU pork announced earlier this
year has had relatively little impact, the Commission says, as
farmers have found new markets in Asia and helped to fill the
gap left by an outbreak of pig disease in the United States.
"We will have to make an increased effort on other markets
in the Asia region, in the Middle East and in North Africa,"
Austrian Agriculture Minister Andrae Rupprechter told
broadcaster ORF last week, but he said there could also be a
case for compensating the hardest hit.
"European leaders brought about tougher sanctions on Russia,
which we respect, but we also have to respect the consequences
and not leave in the lurch those who are bearing the burden," he
In France, Europe's biggest agricultural nation, farmers
have voiced concern about the risk of a glut of unsold produce
from Eastern Europe flooding the Western European market.
While the Commission has said it reserves the right to
respond to Russia's ban, Ciolos has said any response must be
Taking Russia to the World Trade Organization over the food
bans could be unwise, Brussels-based lawyers said, arguing the
EU concern was to de-escalate the crisis.
(1 US dollar = 0.7468 euro)
(Additional reporting by Gus Trompiz in Paris and Michael
Shields in Vienna; Editing by Dale Hudson)