News / Europe

Europe's Food Industry Tries to Compensate for Russian Embargo

A worker arranges boxes of tomatoes at a warehouse near Alexandria, southern Romania, Aug. 20, 2014.
A worker arranges boxes of tomatoes at a warehouse near Alexandria, southern Romania, Aug. 20, 2014.
Lisa Bryant

The European Commission is taking exceptional measures to help fruit and vegetable growers reeling from a new Russian embargo against selected food imports.  The aim is to avoid a glut in local European markets, as the West and Russia fight an economic war over the crisis in Ukraine.

You need a heavy coat to walk around the cavernous warehouse of Thomas Exports, just a few minutes from Paris' Orly airport.  Crates of French cheeses are lined up in the glacial space at around three degrees centigrade.

Director Thomas Medard said these boxes of camembert, brie and Roquefort were heading to the United Arab Emirates, and the American market, but there was a lonely box or two, sitting on the side.

Medard said those boxes were supposed to go to Russia in October.  Now, he will have to find new clients, and that will not be easy.

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

Unless things change drastically in coming weeks, Russians will not be eating French cheese anytime soon, or German sausage or Belgian pears.  Retaliating against European and U.S. trade and investment sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine, Moscow has slapped a one-year ban on selected farm products.

Suddenly, growers and exporters like Medard are facing the prospect of their goods sitting on shelves or rotting in trees with no place to go.

At his office, Medard reads an email from one Russian customer.  Due to elements outside its control, this company is ending its contract with Thomas Export.

Medard said France's cheese industry received no official notice about the ban.  News came through the media, and clients signing documents stopping business because of a 'force majeur' - an element outside their control.

In some ways, Medard's company is lucky.  Russia's food ban came down just as its last summer truckload of cheese made it safely to Moscow.  But it stands to lose between $1 million to $2.5 million in business this year.

Others are bracing for much steeper losses.  Europe's main farm lobby, Copa-Cogeca, says its members export about 10 percent of their produce to Russia - worth about $15 billion a year.  

"Prices for some vegetables, like in the Netherlands, are down 90 percent - for mushrooms, for example.  Also 30-50 percent for fruit," said spokeswoman Amanda Cheesley.

The European Commission says it is making $166 million in emergency support available for the most vulnerable foods like tomatoes, apples and kiwis.

"The basic measures are for withdrawing product from the market - in particular for free distribution.  But there are also measures such as green harvesting and non-harvesting, which is basically taking fruit out of production before its ripe.  Which is more cost-effective.  So the idea of these measures is to ease the pressure on European markets given the loss of the export market at such relatively short notice," said spokesman Roger Waite.

Cheesley of Copa-Cogeca said the compensation was welcome, but it was nowhere near what was needed.

"Because it is a crisis that has had nothing to do with the producers themselves.  We are just being taken into a political situation.  So we will make sure we get as much compensation as possible," she said.

Farmer Martin Hagen inspects his Gala apple trees ahead of the harvest in two weeks time, in Kressbronn near Lindau at lake Bodensee, southern Germany, Aug. 20, 2014.Farmer Martin Hagen inspects his Gala apple trees ahead of the harvest in two weeks time, in Kressbronn near Lindau at lake Bodensee, southern Germany, Aug. 20, 2014.
x
Farmer Martin Hagen inspects his Gala apple trees ahead of the harvest in two weeks time, in Kressbronn near Lindau at lake Bodensee, southern Germany, Aug. 20, 2014.
Farmer Martin Hagen inspects his Gala apple trees ahead of the harvest in two weeks time, in Kressbronn near Lindau at lake Bodensee, southern Germany, Aug. 20, 2014.

Countries like Germany, Poland and the Netherlands are expected to be among the hardest hit by the food ban.  

In France, Daniel Corbel, who heads the National Association of Fruit and Vegetable Exporters called Aneefel, said the pear, apple and apricot industry would face the biggest problems.  

"We have got everything against us.  We have got the weather, we have got the financial crisis where the purchasing power of the consumer is not there.  Plus the Russian crisis.  So you accumulate all whose factors ... together, it is something that is really difficult to overcome," said Corbel.

French producers are also feeling another spinoff of Russia's embargo - like the Spanish peaches selling at bargain prices in markets like this one. Corbel said the farm industry would shortly be launching a "buy local" drive.

That is a push that seller Vincent Costaz - who has a stand in Paris' Alligre market - said was already catching on.  And not just because of Russia.

Costaz said he was selling lots of French products because that was what his customers were demanding, for financial and ecological reasons.

But some shoppers interviewed at Alligre said price and quality - not French solidarity - would drive their choices.  That is the case of Thomas.

He said what was happening with Russia will not change his habits.  Taste comes first.

At Thomas Exports, director Medard is now looking for new clients for his cheeses.

But the French cheese industry has weathered the sting of international disputes before. In 2009, for example, the U.S. government slapped a 300 percent tax on imported Roquefort as part of a trade war with Europe. The Roquefort guys were smart, Medard said they cut their prices, and American gourmets had their cheese.   

(In an earlier version of this story we incorrectly reported "Europe's main farm lobby, Copa-Cogeca, says its members export about 10 percent of their produce to Russia - worth about $10 billion a year." VOA regrets the error.)

You May Like

Multimedia In US, Decision Expected Soon in Racially Charged Case

Missouri town, many Americans on edge over whether jurors will indict white police officer in August shooting death of unarmed black teen More

Corruption Fighters Want More From World’s Strongest Nations

Anti-corruption activists say final communique fell short of expectations and failed to fully address systemic problems More

Philippines Leery of Development on Reef Reclamation in S. China Sea

Chinese land reclamation projects in area have been ongoing for years, but new satellite imagery reportedly shows China’s massive construction project More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Faminei
X
Daniel Schearf
November 23, 2014 4:32 PM
During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video Law Enforcement, Activists in Ferguson Agree to Keep Peace

Authorities in Ferguson, Missouri, say they have agreed with protest leaders to maintain peace when a grand jury reaches its decision on whether to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of a black teenager. Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, has been the scene of intermittent violence since the August 9 shooting intensified long-simmering antagonism between the police and the African-American community. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid