Russia's blanket ban on food imports for a year bad news for Northern Ireland farmers and producers
Northern Ireland's food producers have voiced concern after Russia placed a ban on all food imports from EU countries.
Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said at a televised Cabinet meeting that Russia's retaliatory ban covers all imports of meat, fish, milk, fruit and vegetables from the United States, the European Union, Australia, Canada and Norway. It will last for one year.
The sweeping move will cost Western farmers billions – but could also lead to empty shelves in Russian cities. Locally, it will come to a blow to Dale Farm, which just six months ago announced that its cheese exports to Russia had broken the £10m barrier.
The company recently landed a further order for £1.7m worth of cheddar. Dale Farm did not make any comment on the matter, but in January group chief executive David Dobbin described Russia as "becoming a key cheese export market for us".
He said: "From entering the market two years ago with an initial contract for 100 tonnes of cheddar, we have now sold over 2,500 tonnes."
The Ulster Farmers Union and Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association both expressed concern over Russia's import ban.
According to the UFU, around 3% of Northern Ireland's dairy exports this year went to Russia.
There are currently no red meat, pork or poultry products being exported to Russia from Northern Ireland.
UFU president Ian Marshall said any barrier to trade is a cause for concern, especially as the NI agri-food industry is "predominately export driven". He said our dairy industry will feel the effects of the decision first, but others will feel the effects later.
A bigger issue for local food producers will be the market becoming more competitive due to the loss of exports to Russia.
"All 27 EU member states will be affected by Russia's blanket ban on food imports," he said. "There are many that have built up a great reliance on the Russian market. With it closed they will be looking to find a new home for their products. This is potentially a much bigger issue for us as there will undoubtedly be increased competition in world export markets."
Michael Bell of the NI Food and Drink Association echoed the UFU's concerns. "Large exporters of food to Russia, such as USA and some European countries, will now be forced to find alternative markets for their produce, which could result in over-supply within markets upon which our industry depends," he said.
Russia banned food imports from the West in a row over Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin's retaliation for sanctions by the West has been described as a major blow to the dairy industry – both north and south of the Irish border – which sells food worth tens of millions of euro to Russia every year.
The ban is in retaliation for the US and EU freezing assets and banning loans on individuals and companies in Russia, which they accuse of increasing tensions in eastern Ukraine by supplying arms and expertise to pro-Moscow rebels.