Commission silent over Turkey’s hopes to profit from Russian food ban

Aid delivery. Zurich, April 2012.

At least publicly, the Commission has kept silent over Turkey’s statements that it should profit from the Russian embargo on imported Western food. EURACTIV Greece reports.

As an EU candidate country, Turkey is expected to align with EU foreign policy, especially in the cases of restrictive measures imposed on third countries

In the case of Serbia, also a candidate country, Brussels praised the government for its choice not to economically exploit the Russian embargo on EU food imports. In contrast, it avoided giving a “clear” answer regarding a controversial reaction of Turkish authorities.

The Turkish finance minister Nihat Zeybekci said that the ongoing crisis between Russia and the West was an “opportunity” for Ankara. The statement angered Athens, which accused Turkey of exploiting the Russian embargo on EU food imports.

>>Read more: Greece accuses Turkey of exploiting Russian EU food ban

On the contrary, Serbia reacted to the EU’s call, making clear that it had no intention of benefiting from the Russian embargo on Western food imports.

Speaking to journalists in Belgrade, Serbian PM Aleksandar Vu?i? confirmed that his government had received an official warning calling on Serbia to refrain from boosting exports to Russia, as a matter of solidarity with the bloc. He added that his government had no intention of encouraging exports to Russia, after Brussels urged the EU hopeful not to exploit the Kremlin’s ban on Western food imports.

>>Read more: Serbia assures EU it will not exploit Russian food ban

EURACTIV Greece sent an e-mail to the DG Enlargement of the EU executive, asking if the EU had sent a similar official warning to Turkey, and if yes, what was the reaction by Ankara.

The reply of Peter Stano, spokesman of EU enlargement commissioner Štefan Füle, indicates that the EU executive is trying to avoid commenting on the Turkish reaction.

Stano mentioned the conclusions on Ukraine of EU foreign ministers’ council on 15 August, and more precisely the paragraph 11, where EU candidate countries were urged not to take advantage of the Russian embargo at the expense of the EU countries.

“In order to ensure the unity of the international community and to uphold international law, the European Union expects third and candidate countries to refrain from measures which are aimed at exploiting new trading opportunities arising from the introduction of these measures.”

Stano also clarified that there was no “letter” sent by the EU particularly to the Serbian authorities, but the conclusions were communicated to all countries concerned “via standard diplomatic channels”.

“So what happened in the case you mention related to Serbia was standard diplomatic communication when the EU Delegation in Belgrade communicated to the Serbian Foreign Ministry what the FAC agreed in its Conclusions”, he emphasized.  

But Stano’s answer about the Turkish reaction was less clear.

“We do not see any need to elaborate publicly on the ways how and what we communicate via diplomatic channels with our partner countries and how they react to this communication, since this is the nature of diplomacy that it is not conducted via media”, he stated.

“That is why I will not elaborate on the list of the partner countries and their responses when it comes to issues related to this FAC Conclusions and Russian measures against the EU in general”,Stano continued.

It remains unclear what Ankara’s stance will be and if it will finally go ahead with its promise to economically exploit the deadlock of West-Russia relations.

Even more uncertain is the European reaction toward such a development, which apparently takes taking into consideration the fragile political atmosphere in the EU hopeful  following the recent presidential elections. 

Russia has escalated an economic battle set off by the crisis in Ukraine with a ban on all food imports from the United States and on fruit and vegetables from the European Union, dropping any pretence these might be for food safety reasons.

The import ban, signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on 6 August, comes after he ordered retaliation for Western sanctions against Moscow. The decree halts or limits imports of agricultural products from countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia, ordering the government to come up with a list of imports to be banned for a year.

Russia is a major buyer of European fruit and vegetables but ranks 23rd among buyers of food from the United States, accounting for less than 1% of America's farm exports.

According to the website of the Russian television, the top Western food suppliers to Russia are as follows:

  1. Germany with $1.83 billion (€1.38 billion)
  2. Poland with $1.55 billion (€1.17 billion)
  3. USA with $1.54 billion (€1.16 billion)
  4. Netherlands with $1.42 billion (€1.07 billion)
  5. France with $1.42 billion (€1.07 billion)
  6. Italy with $1.34 billion (€.01 billion)
  7. Spain with $1.26 billion (€950 million)

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