Russia's import ban on Turkey provokes reaction

The news of an import ban on some Turkish agricultural products had immediate effects on agricultural wholesaling in the Turkish domestic market.

Russia's import ban on Turkey provokes reaction

Exporters and both Turkish and Russian business councils reacting to the decision of Russian authorities to ban imports of some Turkish agricultural products highlight Russia's high standards for agricultural imports and the significance for Turkey of trade between the two nations.

Last Friday, Russia's agricultural regulator, the Federal Veterinary and Phytosanitary Control Service (Rosselkhoznadzor), announced that it would suspend Turkish agricultural imports beginning June 7 following the discovery of high levels of chemical fertilizer in certain products. The agency said around 4 million tons of agricultural produce that Turkey exported to Russia in 2008 contained pesticides and nitrate traces in "amounts significantly exceeding the maximum permitted levels set by Russian law."

The news of an import ban on some Turkish agricultural products had immediate effects on agricultural wholesaling in the Turkish domestic market. A similar ban was imposed on Turkish products in 2005 by Russia. It lasted for four months and was applied upon detection of Mediterranean fruit fly larvae on some products imported from Turkey. Another crisis loomed in 2006; yet, the imposition of another ban by Russia was averted. Russia said at the time that tomato, zucchini, lemon and tangerine imports from Turkey during February 2006 were contaminated.

Turgut Gür, chairman of the Foreign Economic Relations Board's (DEİK) Turkish-Russian Business Council, said Russia was one of Turkey's biggest trade partners -- with $8-9 billion in total annual trade -- and that an interruption in this trade relationship would damage the Turkish economy, Turkish agricultural institutions and Turkish farmers. Highlighting the importance of Russia's location, he added, "Russia is an important trade partner for Turkey thanks to our relations as neighbors and ready means of transportation, such as sea freight."

Gür recalled the Eighth Turkish-Russian Intergovernmental Economic Commission meeting organized in Moscow in late May with the participation of Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Güler and Russian Energy and Industry Minister Viktor Hristenko, saying it was surprising to encounter such a reaction from Russia following such positive dialogue. At the meeting, issues involving inspection and shipping were discussed, Gür said. He also noted that the use of cheap fertilizers had resulted in negative inspection results. Saying the problem could not be solved immediately, Gür continued: "An agricultural product is the result of a process. It is not like a mechanical product whose parts are interchangeable. You cannot fix excessive fertilizer use on agricultural products immediately."

In a telephone interview, Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM) Chairman Oğuz Satıcı said that the Russian import ban on Turkish agricultural products was inexplicable and that vegetable exports from Turkey to Russia constituted an important segment of Turkey's total exports. Highlighting the political aspect of the ban, Satıcı said: "The ban has a dimension separate from the economic [aspect]. It is a Russian ban on Turkey as a whole." Asserting that the high rate of chemicals in agricultural products might just be an allegation, he said the problem should be handled on the political level between the Russian and Turkish ministers of agriculture in a way that would not damage Russian-Turkish relations.

The import ban news affected the domestic agricultural market along with the coming of summer. In Antalya wholesale food markets the prices of some products have decreased: green pepper prices have fallen by YKr 20, the kapya pepper by YKr 15, greenhouse tomatoes by YKr 20, green beans by YKr 10, small courgettes by YKr 20, iceberg lettuce by YKr 10 and aubergines by YKr 10. Tomato prices experienced a drastic decline. While tomatoes cost YTL 1.60 last week, this week they are only YKr 80.

Recalling the ban Russia imposed in 2005, the chairman said: "The ban may shake Turks' trust of Russia. For that reason, the problems must be dealt with at the ministerial level without conveying the tension to the public." He also noted that they were continuing to negotiate with agricultural institutions but said the problem, with its public psychological and political dimensions, was too big for exporters to handle. Emphasizing the importance of a speedy solution process, Satıcı said losses would increase unless solutions were produced immediately.

Uludağ Exporters Council (UİB) Chairman Mustafa Ulusoy said sellers should meet buyer demands in all types of trade relations but that Russia's demand fell outside international standards and practices, and that Russian requirements were more stringent than the European Union's agricultural inspection norms. "In Turkey, the production is done on the basis of EU agricultural norms. However, Russia has increased its standards over the last three years for unknown reasons. They have energy power, and this brings money -- perhaps that is why they can impose agricultural sanctions on many countries," Ulusoy said in a telephone interview.

Ali Kavak, chairman of the Mediterranean Vegetable-Fruit Exporters Council, said they are expecting an immediate solution, recalling similar problems experienced in 2005. Emphasizing the importance of the Russian market, he said, "It was not easy to enter the Russian market, and if we cannot hold on there, others can replace us." He also said he did not think Turkish agricultural producers neglected international standards of agricultural production.

Sunday's Zaman

Güncelleme Tarihi: 08 Haziran 2008, 13:40