As top EU officials and leaders from member states gathered today to began emergency talks on Russia's ban on Western food imports, Slovakian prime minister Robert Fico criticised EU sanctions against Russia as a ‘meaningless’ gesture that would hit growth prospects,
"Why should we jeopardize the EU economy that begins to grow?" Fico told a news conference. "If there is a crisis situation, it should be solved by other means than meaningless sanctions.”
“Who profits from [the] EU economy decreasing, Russia's economy having troubles and Ukraine economically on its knees?" he asked.
Last week, Russia announced a one-year embargo on meat, fish, dairy, fruit and vegetables from the United States, the EU, Canada, Australia and Norway in retaliation for Western economic sanctions over Moscow's involvement in the Ukrainian conflict.
Analysts say Russia could be inflicting the sharpest pain on itself as it will drive up food prices for its consumers and stoke inflation, however EU farmers and food industry players are concerned about the impact export bans will have on them – with a recent analysis of trade data by FoodNavigator suggesting the sanctions could cost EU countries more than €5 billion per year in lost exports.
EU measures to come
The European Commission has already announced support for peach and nectarine growers which had already been suffering a price collapse that has since been exacerbated by the Russian ban.
Now, EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Dacian Cioloș pledged to propose EU-wide measures that would reassure markets and producers:
"Early next week, I will come forward with the next market stabilisation measure, targeting a number of perishable fruit and vegetable products which are now clearly in difficulty," he said. "This action will be proportionate and cost effective."
After a 2013 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, the EU has an emergency €420 million fund available to compensate producers for sudden market distortions. This fund is already available for producers that need support, Cioloș previously stated.
Commission officials say decisions could be made very swiftly on whether the fund can be used, but they first need adequate data from member states to show who needs it most.
"We are looking to monitor likely patterns on each individual market," Commission spokesman Roger Waite said.
The EU Commissioner also announced that a market monitoring mechanism had been put in place to access sector specific data more quickly and effectively, while member states' representatives will meet weekly to discuss the subject until the crisis is resolved, he added.