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EU Food Imports

Volume 589: debated on Tuesday 2 December 2014

We estimate that about £4.5 billion of EU food exports stand to be affected, of which the UK share amounts to £39 million. At the same time, import restrictions have led to price increases to Russian shoppers of about 15%.

Russia’s ban on EU food imports has contributed to the creation of an imbalance between market demand and supply in the dairy industry, particularly in Northern Ireland, where we rely greatly on exports. In view of that, will the Minister have immediate discussions with his ministerial colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs with a view to pursuing other global markets for the dairy industry?

I completely understand the hon. Lady’s point about producers in Northern Ireland. As she knows, some EU compensation arrangements are available, but she has put her finger on the really important point. My colleagues in DEFRA and UK Trade & Investment want to work with producers in Northern Ireland and elsewhere both to access the EU funds available for getting into alternative markets and to promote the excellent produce from Northern Ireland in third markets worldwide.

Given that Russia’s food import problems are due to the financial sanctions imposed on it by the EU because of Russia’s illegal behaviour in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and given that yesterday the rouble had its worst day since the 1990s, does the Minister agree that financial sanctions will bring Russia to the negotiating table, and will he continue with them?

Russia has certainly suffered heavily as a result of the imposition of sanctions in the way that my right hon. Friend describes. We have seen a flight of capital out of Russia, as well as the precipitate fall in the value of the rouble. I hope that the Russian leadership will accept that it is in the interests of the Russian people to implement the Minsk agreement with Ukraine in full and, in particular, to return to Ukraine control of her sovereign borders.

Further to the question from the right hon. Member for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway), world leaders rightly made their views known about the Russian actions in Ukraine at the recent G20 summit in Australia. Will the Minister say more about the effect that he thinks the sanctions and the recent fall in the oil price are having on Russia and, in particular, whether he believes that the combined effect is producing a change in Russian attitudes towards fostering nationalism in Ukraine and possibly in other countries with Russian-speaking minorities?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s implicit point that we are concerned not just about Ukraine, but about the doctrine of a right to intervene in support of Russian speakers anywhere in the world. The answer to his question is that, sadly, we are not yet seeing a return to serious talks and the implementation of the Minsk peace agreement by the Russian leadership, but the impact of sanctions on the Russian economy, coupled with the decline in oil prices, is catastrophic. It is in the interests of the Russian people that we see a change.

What assessment has the Minister made of the impact on the people of Russia and on Russian public opinion of the effect of the sanctions and the declining oil price?

The people of Russia—ordinary families—are bearing the brunt of the cost of the Kremlin’s adventurism in Ukraine through much higher inflation, a lack of access to high-quality, good-value imported produce, and a decline, every week, in the value of the rouble in their pockets.