A Russian woman shops for yogurt in Saint Petersburg on August 7. Russia retaliated against tough new Western sanctions, banning most food imports from the United States and the European Union and threatening to block flights over its airspace. (Olga Maltseva / AFP/Getty Images)
Washington — Russian diners won’t be able to find creamy Dutch cheeses or juicy Polish apples in the grocery store or cook up chicken from the United States — the result of a Russian ban on most food imports from the West.
Although the U.S., Canada and the European Union together will take more than a $17.5 billion hit, Russian consumers may feel it more than Western farmers.
Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, shrugged off the import ban’s impact as negligible, in contrast to Western sanctions on Russian individuals, businesses and economic sectors that he said have sent investors fleeing Russia and made a weak Russian economy even weaker.
There’s a “cruel irony” in Russia’s import ban, said David Cohen, the Treasury Department undersecretary in charge of economic sanctions. “What the Russians have done here is limit the Russian people’s access to food,” Cohen told reporters. “We don’t do that. Our law doesn’t allow us to do that.”
What to know about the Russian ban, which is in retaliation for sanctions the U.S. and European nations have imposed because of its actions in Ukraine:
What’s At Stake?
The United States exports about $1.2 billion in food and agricultural goods to Russia, less than one percent of total U.S. agriculture exports. The EU exports about 11.8 billion euros ($15.8 billion) to Russia, about 10 percent of its total agriculture exports.
Who Is Hit The Hardest?
In the EU, Poland, France, the Netherlands and Germany will feel much of the loss.
The Netherlands send 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion) worth of agricultural products to Russia annually, Germany 1.6 billion euros ($2.1 billion), France 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion) and Poland 1.6 billion euros ($2.1 billion). Poland is Europe’s largest producer of apples; more than half of its production goes to Russia.
Russia’s ban on Polish apples, already announced last week, led to a popular campaign in Poland, with media and officials urging citizens to eat more apples and drink more ciders. A widely used slogan was “An apple a day keeps Putin away!”
President Xavier Beulin of a French farm union said the Russian import ban could affect the country’s fruit and vegetable industry.
“Russia is a significant market for us and one that grows by about 10 percent each year. It’s not trivial,” he told European television network LCI.
The ban also dealt a blow to Norway’s fishing industry. The Norwegian Seafood Federation said Russia was its biggest single market last year.
The impact is less in the United States. The largest U.S. export to Russia is poultry, mainly chicken, followed by tree nuts such as almonds, and also soybeans. In a statement, the National Chicken Council and the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council said Russia buys a little more than $300 million in U.S. chicken annually, about 7 percent of the industry’s total exports.
A Gradual Decline
Both the EU and the United States have already seen hits to Russian exports in recent years as Russia has scrutinized and limited meat imports. In 2012, Russia bought almost $300 million in U.S. beef and $268 million in U.S. pork. Those numbers dropped to $1 million and $17 million, respectively, a year later after Russia imposed limits on those products because of a feed additive used in the United States called ractopamine.
Impact On Russia
The biggest impact could be on Russian consumers. Russia received up to 55 percent of its agricultural imports from the countries it has so far sanctioned, including the United States, European Union, Ukraine, Australia and Canada, according to an Associated Press analysis of figures from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
Almost half of Russia’s meat imports — about 47 percent — last year came from the countries it has slapped sanctions on, according to the FAO figures. Russia will likely import more from its other main suppliers, namely Brazil and Paraguay.
About 95 percent of Russia’s dairy imports last year came from countries it has now sanctioned, with its biggest suppliers until now being Ukraine, the Netherlands, Germany, Lithuania, Finland and Poland.
What Farmers, Companies Are Saying
Many U.S. food companies that sell to Russia have already set up some operations there. A spokeswoman for Mondelez International, Inc., which makes Oreos, Chips Ahoy cookies and Ritz crackers, said the company uses local suppliers and local production facilities.
Worth Sparkman, a spokesman for Springdale, Arkansas, based Tyson Foods— one of the world’s largest processors of chicken, beef and pork— said the chicken the company ships to Russia will be absorbed by the 130 other markets the company sells to.