* Russia ban is in retaliation for Western sanctions
* Putin orders food import curbs
* Central bank warns bans will hurt inflation fight
(Adds White House comment)
By Polina Devitt and Dmitry Zhdannikov
MOSCOW, Aug 6 Russia has escalated an economic
battle set off by the crisis in Ukraine with a ban on all food
imports from the United States and on fruit and vegetables from
the European Union, dropping any pretence these might be for
food safety reasons.
The import ban, reported by state news agency Ria Novosti on
Wednesday, comes after Russia President Vladimir Putin ordered
retaliation for Western sanctions against Moscow.
Russia is a major buyer of European fruit and vegetables but
ranks 23rd among buyers of food from the United States,
accounting for less than 1 percent of America's farm exports.
The White House said the ban would backfire, hurting Russian
citizens by pushing up inflation.
"Retaliating against Western companies or countries will
deepen Russia's international isolation, causing further damage
to its own economy," said Laura Lucas Magnuson, a spokeswoman
for the White House National Security Council.
Putin signed a decree on Wednesday halting or limiting
imports of agricultural products from countries that have
imposed sanctions on Russia, ordering his government to come up
with a list of imports to be banned for a year.
"(All food products) that are being produced in the U.S. and
being supplied to Russia will be banned," Ria Novosti quoted
Alexei Alekseenko, spokesman for the VPSS food standards agency,
as saying. "Fruit and vegetables from EU will be covered by the
total ban," he added.
No one was available for comment at the VPSS (Phytosanitary
Surveillance Service), but earlier Alekseenko told Reuters that
retaliatory action would be "quite substantial" and would
include U.S. poultry. Russians have a strong appetite for U.S.
chicken, buying 276,100 tonnes of it last year, or 8 percent of
A spokesman for the European Commission in Brussels said he
had no immediate comment.
Russians bought 21.5 percent of EU vegetable exports and 28
percent of the bloc's fruit exports in 2011.
The U.S. National Chicken Council and Poultry & Egg Export
Council said it did not expect a great impact on the industry
from the ban, while farmers said ordinary Russians could suffer.
"This is clearly a political move. It is unfortunate that
the biggest losers in this will be Russian consumers, who will
pay more for their food now as well as in the long run," said
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
In the past, Russia has banned a variety of U.S. foods,
citing health and safety concerns, but Wednesday's action makes
its language on terms similar to that of the United States and
European Union, which have imposed sanctions on Moscow.
Explicitly banning a country's products for political
reasons would violate the rules of the World Trade Organization,
which Russia joined in 2012.
After Putin issued his decree, the VPSS said it would
discuss an option to increase food imports from Ecuador, Brazil,
Chile and Argentina with the countries' ambassadors on Thursday.
Brazilian producers could send an additional 150,000 tonnes
of chicken per year to Russia to make up the shortfall,
Francisco Turra, president of the country's animal protein
association, ABPA, said in Sao Paulo.
Washington and the EU first imposed sanctions after Russia
annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March and tightened them after a
Malaysian airliner was shot down last month over territory in
eastern Ukraine held by pro-Moscow rebels. Moscow rejects
Western allegations that the rebels used a missile it supplied
to bring down the airliner, killing all 298 people on board.
East-West relations soured further on Wednesday as NATO said
Russia might use the pretext of a humanitarian mission to invade
Until now, smaller or poorer countries have featured
prominently among those targeted by the Russian response. Moscow
has already suspended beef and cattle imports from Romania,
citing an outbreak of mad cow disease, and banned Ukrainian
juice and dairy produce, Polish vegetables and Australian beef.
Russia's central bank warned that such bans on importing
cheap products could make it harder to control inflation, which
fell to an annual 7.5 percent in July, but remains well above
the 6.5 percent rate in 2013.
(US$1 = 0.7487 euro)
(Writing by David Stamp; Additional reporting by Michael
Shields, Fabiola Gomes; Angelika Gruber, Polina Devitt, Maria
Kiselyova, Silvia Aloisi and Gianluca Semeraro; Karl Plume and
Tom Polansek in Chicago; Roberta Rampton in Washington; Editing
by Kevin Liffey, Steve Orlofsky and Ken Wills)