November 26, 2015 / 7:36 AM / 3 years ago

Russia cracks down on Turkey food imports after jet downed

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has increased checks on food and agriculture imports from Turkey, the agriculture ministry said on Thursday, in the first public move to curb trade in a dispute with Ankara for downing a Russian fighter jet.

The government told food safety watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor to increase controls after agriculture ministry research showed about 15 percent of agriculture imports from Turkey did not meet regulations, the ministry said.

Rosselkhoznadzor normally only checks some food deliveries. The decision to start checking all supplies from Turkey means while imports will continue, they could be significantly delayed.

Moscow often uses Rosselkhoznadzor regulations in diplomatic spats, imposing bans on imports of certain products, citing health reasons. Officials deny the agency’s actions are politically driven.

Moscow banned most Western food imports in 2014 when Western countries imposed sanctions on Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis.

President Tayyip Erdogan has made no apology for the downing of the jet, saying his nation had been defending its security and the “rights of our brothers in Syria”. He made clear Turkish policy would not change. Russian officials have expressed fury over Turkey’s action.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters the government was not planning to impose any embargo on Turkish imports.

Turkey accounts for about 4 percent of Russia’s total food imports, supplying mainly fruits, nuts and vegetables. Agricultural and food product imports from Turkey were worth $1 billion in the first 10 month of 2015, according to customs data.

But 20 percent of Russia’s vegetables come from Turkey. Russia’s Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev said any shortfall could be made up with supplies from Iran, Morocco, Israel and Azerbaijan.

Citrus imports could come from South Africa, Morocco, China and other countries if necessary, he said in a statement.

Russia’s biggest food retailer Magnit (MGNTq.L) said it was still buying fruits and vegetables from Turkey and declined to provide further comment. Food retailer Dixy DIXY.MM said it would do its best to find other suppliers if needed.

Russian retailers were forced to find new suppliers in 2014 after Russia banned most Western food imports.

Reporting by Polina Devitt and Olga Sichkar; editing by Susan Thomas

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