Following the latest series of sanctions imposed on Russia by the European Union and United States, Moscow has retaliated by banning fruit and vegetables from the EU and banning all food imports from the U.S., thus dropping any pretense these might be for food safety reasons. State news agency Ria Novosti reported on Wednesday (6 August) that the import ban comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered retaliation for Western sanctions against Moscow by halting or limiting imports of agricultural products from countries that are participating in the sanction regimes. Russia is a major buyer of European fruit and vegetables – accounting for 21.5 percent of EU vegetable exports and 28 percent of the bloc’s fruit exports in 2011 – while it bought only less than 1 percent of the total of America’s farm exports.
Responding to the Russian latest move, a statement from the White House asserted that the ban would backfire, hurting Russian citizens by pushing up inflation. Laura Lucas Magnuson, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said that “Retaliating against Western companies or countries will deepen Russia’s international isolation, causing further damage to its own economy.” A European Commission’s spokesperson in Brussels said he had no immediate comment. Moscow has already a history of banning a variety of U.S.-made food, citing health and safety concerns, but its latest move makes its language sound very similar to that of the U.S.’s and EU’s statements justifying their series of sanctions. Moscow has indicated that it would discuss various options to increase food imports from alternative sources, such as Chile, Brazil, Ecuador and Argentina. Meanwhile, Deputy Assistant US Trade Representative Trevor Kincaid stressed that “The sanctions that the United States has imposed comply with our international obligations. By contrast, Russia’s move to ban agriculture goods from the United States and the EU appears to have no grounding in the WTO rules governing international trade,” and warned that “We will monitor the situation and take actions as appropriate.”