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EU food diplomacy

Meggin LeighAugust 13, 2014

When the EU leveled tougher sanctions against Russia in July, it couldn't have predicted that Moscow would react with a ban on food imports. Now Brussels wants to dissuade the rest of the world from filling the gap.

Das Gebäude der EU-Kommission in Brüssel
Image: DW/W. Izotov

Russia's current ban on many western food exports leaves not only a massive trade gap but it creates a lucrative opportunity from which other countries can benefit. Several South American countries, including Brazil, Peru and Chile, are already eyeing the potential windfall.

Russia spent $25.2 billion (18.8 billion euros) last year on imports in the categories affected by the new bans. A spokeswoman from Russia's Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Service (VPSS) said last week that it was holding meetings with food importers to discuss supplies from the new markets. She added that Brazil and Peru were willing to supply substantial volumes of meat, while Ecuador and Chile were looking to fill the orders for fish and dairy.

Sources from the EU trade commissioner's office were reluctant to speak about the specific countries of concern but told DW that EU officials are currently holding talks on various levels to dissuade Latin American countries from filling the gaps. Sources said that while there are no legal means to force such countries to comply, the EU can appeal to their moral conscience and point out the political consequences of trying to make a quick buck in the face of sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine.

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Profits over principles

But how likely are Latin American countries such as Brazil or Chile to appease EU desires when billions of dollars are at stake? Not likely, says Carl Meacham, the director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. When it comes to trade with Moscow, he told DW that “Latin America does not have a moral imperative to preserve Brussels' policy on Russia. ”

And he may be correct. Brazil's secretary of agricultural policy Seneri Paludo has already announced that around 90 new meat plants in the country have been approved to export beef, chicken and pork to Russia. Efforts are also underway to increase the exports of corn and soybeans to Russian buyers.

But in order for the EU sanctions against Russia to finally bite, officials in Brussels say it's not only their job to convince affected members that such measures are on track, but they feel obligated to convey their importance to the rest of the world as well.