Russia escalates economic battle with U.S., EU with food import ban

MOSCOW, (Reuters) – Russia has escalated an economic battle set off by the crisis in Ukraine with a ban on all food imports from the United States and on fruit and vegetables from the European Union, dropping any pretence these might be for food safety reasons.

The import ban, reported by state news agency Ria Novosti on Wednesday, comes after Russia President Vladimir Putin ordered retaliation for Western sanctions against Moscow.

Russia is a major buyer of European fruit and vegetables but ranks 23rd among buyers of food from the United States, accounting for less than 1 percent of America’s farm exports.

The White House said the ban would backfire, hurting Russian citizens by pushing up inflation.

“Retaliating against Western companies or countries will deepen Russia’s international isolation, causing further damage to its own economy,” said Laura Lucas Magnuson, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council.

Putin signed a decree on Wednesday halting or limiting imports of agricultural products from countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia, ordering his government to come up with a list of imports to be banned for a year.

“(All food products) that are being produced in the U.S. and being supplied to Russia will be banned,” Ria Novosti quoted Alexei Alekseenko, spokesman for the VPSS food standards agency, as saying. “Fruit and vegetables from EU will be covered by the total ban,” he added.

No one was available for comment at the VPSS (Phytosanitary Surveillance Service), but earlier Alekseenko told Reuters that retaliatory action would be “quite substantial” and would include U.S. poultry. Russians have a strong appetite for U.S. chicken, buying 276,100 tonnes of it last year, or 8 percent of U.S. exports.

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