Belarussian oysters anyone? EU food trade looks to sidestep Russian ban

Aug 19 2014, 02:01 IST
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SummaryPeople from Britain who go to Cyprus in August are usually after sun, sea and sand but one Lincolnshire man, a trader in fruit and vegetables, is heading there this week for the potatoes.

People from Britain who go to Cyprus in August are usually after sun, sea and sand but one Lincolnshire man, a trader in fruit and vegetables, is heading there this week for the potatoes.

Since Russia barred imports of food from most of the rest of Europe, businesses are jostling for new buyers and sellers.

In the case of Knightsbridge Foods, its Russian supermarket clients may get spuds this winter not from Lincolnshire but from the Mediterranean island, where the crop from breakaway Turkish-speaking Northern Cyprus can be shipped via Turkey and so, the trader believes, evade Moscow's ban on European Union produce.

“You need quick thinking,” said Knightsbridge's owner, who declined to be identified by name before he visits the divided island, where the recognised government is an EU member. “You need very strong contacts. Things change every single week.”

Knightsbridge is one of many European firms exploring ways to sidestep Russia's import embargo on fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and dairy produce from the EU and Norway, as well as from the United States, Australia and Canada.

The ban, in retaliation for economic sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, could deny wealthy Russians delicacies like Norwegian smoked salmon, Italian ham and French cheese.

But, as with the communist nomenklatura in Soviet times, many expect the new elite will find ways to bypass customs controls — not least as a waiver on shipments for personal use leaves a grey area for importing small, high-value cargoes.

Some firms expect more traffic to countries which maintain trading ties with Moscow, such as Turkey, and to neighbours like Belarus and Kazakhstan, which form a customs union with Russia.

“Of course there's going to be a black market,” said Luke Devlin, director of PDQ Specialist Couriers in Britain, which ships urgent products around Europe. “They will still want their French ... cheese and they're still going to be able to get it.”

In recent weeks there has been more interest in EU products from ex-Soviet Belarus and other eastern states, Devlin said, noting that logistics firms were considering ways to meet new demand. “They've got established routes from the UK or France to Russia ... and they may as well see where they can build up.”

A London-based stock analyst covering logistics companies said big, listed players which include Deutsche Post and Kuehne & Nagel would probably think twice about pouring too much new money into the region given the ban was likely to

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