EU fruit, veg growers get $180M to help with Russia ban

Brussels | Reuters –– The European Union’s fruit and vegetable growers will get financial aid of up to 125 million euros (C$181.9 million) to help them cope with Russia’s ban on most Western food imports, which has created a glut of produce in peak harvest time, the European Commission said.

Russia has declared a one-year embargo on meat, fish, dairy, fruit and vegetables from the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia and Norway in retaliation for Western economic sanctions over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. [Related story]

The EU’s executive commission said on Monday it was drawing on provisions in the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which includes an emergency reserve of some 420 million euros in total to compensate for market disruption.

Of that, it will make available 125 million euros between now and the end of November.

“With effect from today, I am triggering CAP emergency measures which will reduce the overall supply of a number of fruit and vegetable products on the European market as and when price pressures become too great in the coming months,” Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos said.

“All farmers of the concerned products, whether in producer organisations or not, will be eligible to take up these market support measures.”

The European farmers’ union Copa-Cogeca said it welcomed the Commission’s swift response.

It said, however, national funding would be needed in addition to EU money. It predicted the overall cost would be much greater than the total in the emergency CAP reserve as the knock-on effects would extend beyond this growing season.

The EU funding will cover produce such as tomatoes, apples, cauliflowers, mushrooms, grapes, cucumbers, strawberries and blackcurrants, which lack storage options and have no immediate alternative markets to make up for the absence of Russia.

“Prices for these perishable products have been hit hard by the crisis, falling by up to 90 per cent in some cases. Prices for other products targeted by the ban are also coming under intense pressure,” Copa-Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen said in a statement.

The Commission’s plan is to support prices by reducing some of the surplus in the market. Producers will receive funding to compensate for fruit and vegetables either withdrawn from the market and distributed for free or not harvested.

Already a week ago, the Commission announced it would provide financial support for peach and nectarine growers.

The farmers’ situation will be assessed further at a meeting of agriculture experts representing member states on Friday and at an extraordinary meeting of EU agriculture ministers on Sept. 5.

EU farm exports to Russia are worth about 11 billion euros a year, roughly 10 percent of all EU agricultural sales.

— Barbara Lewis is Reuters’ senior EU energy and environment correspondent, based in Brussels.

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