(UPDATED COVERAGE, Aug. 7) Putting at risk a key market for Northwest tree fruit, grapes and California nuts, Russia has imposed trade restrictions on select agricultural imports from the U.S. and other countries.
The sanctions apply to fruits, vegetables, nuts and other agricultural products from a long list of countries that have trade penalties against Russia for its role in the Ukraine conflict.
The ban on imports will apply to the U.S., the European Union, Canada, Norway and Australia, Russian authorities said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an Aug. 6 statement that the sanctions will be in place for one year.
Russian importers are concerned, said Ksenia Gorovaya, director at Crisp Consulting near St. Petersburg. Her business works with Russian importers of U.S. fruit.
“Retailers are more careful with judgments, the official position is that they will manage to source local produce,” she said in an e-mail Aug. 7.
For U.S. fruit exporters, the trade sanctions come during the light season for exports to Russia, Gorovaya said. Not many U.S. fresh produce items were in transit, she said.
Russia is a big market for U.S. specialty crops. In 2013, Russia imported $138 million in almonds, $31 million in pistachios, $13 million in fresh apples, $12 million in pears and $2.7 million in grapes from the U.S.
In total, Russia in 2013 purchased about $170 million in tree nuts, $36 million in fresh fruit and $1.1 million in fresh vegetables, said Ken Gilliland, director of international trade and transportation with Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers.
Russia is an important market for Northwest apples and pears, said Mark Powers, vice president, Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash.
“With the size of crops we have on apples, we need every market,” he said. “We’re very concerned.”
No Washington apples have been shipped to Russia since the second half of May, so exporters should not have any fruit caught in transit by the ban, said Rebecca Lyons, international marketing director for the Washington Apple Commission, Wenatchee., Wash.
“We have several promotional programs set for Russia this fall, but until we have more information we are holding tight,” she said in an e-mail. “If we cannot ship to the market, then we certainly will have to make adjustments to the program.”
With the Russian sanctions also in place against big European pear producing countries of Poland, the Netherlands and Belgium — as well as the U.S. — pear exporters will be fighting for fewer export markets this year, said Kevin Moffitt, president and CEO at Pear Bureau Northwest, Milwaukie, Ore.
With the one-year ban, U.S. producers will lose an important foreign market and Russian consumers will pay more for produce and other foods, said Ray Gilmer, vice president of issues management and communication, for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.
The U.S. and other countries may challenge Russia’s action through the World Trade Organization, because Russia is violating terms of the trade agreement, said Bob Schramm, principal with Washington, D.C.-based Schramm, Williams & Associates Inc.
U.S. sanctions against Russia for its role in the Ukraine took the form of denying visas to Russian officials, Russian business people and friends of Putin, he said. Putin didn’t bother with visas in his retaliation but went directly after agriculture, Schramm said.
“It is unfortunate that if Russia had to impose sanctions on the U.S., that they didn’t do what the U.S. and other Western nations did, and that was deny visas for certain U.S. government and U.S. business people,” he said. “Why take it out on agriculture?”
Schramm said Russia will have to rely more on imported fruit and beef from Turkey, Egypt, Brazil and New Zealand.