Russia wants to limit schemes bypassing food embargo
Russia’s embargo on some foodstuffs from the EU has created favourable conditions for some alternative delivery routes through Belarus. One of the most popular schemes is processing imported raw materials at Belarusian enterprises and exporting the processed products to Russia. Russia is unable to block the re-export entirely, however, she suggests measures to Belarus to increase control over such supplies.
Rosselkhoznadzor may impose restrictions on the supply of dairy and fish products from several enterprises in Belarus.
Russia’s embargo on meat, dairy, fish, fruit and vegetables from the EU has created opportunities for the countries not on the sanctions list to increase their supplies to Russia. For instance, lettuce grown in the Netherlands was imported to Russia as if originating from Israel. Polish apples were imported as originating from Serbia and Macedonia. Fruits from Moldova were listed in the documents as grown in Belarus. The embargo has also boosted exporters’ profits. Prices for fruits and vegetables in the EU have dropped, and have gone up in Russia.
In Belarus, schemes bypassing Russia’s food embargo are as follows. A Belarusian company or a joint venture imports raw materials to Belarus. After processing them, Belarus is listed as the country of origin in the documents. Later, such products may be exported to Russia without any restrictions. Processing might imply something very simple. For instance, chilled and frozen fish from Norway could be put in vacuum packaging and legally exported to Russia as made in Belarus. In the first two weeks of September, Belarus more than doubled her fish imports from Norway compared with July (before the embargo was introduced). Belarus has also increased imports of raw milk from Poland and Lithuania in order to meet domestic market needs after exports of butter and cheese to Russia increased.
Various schemes bypassing Russia’s food embargo may only be stopped if Russia and Belarus introduce border customs control, which would contradict the Eurasian Union integration agreements. The only way for Russia to reduce re-imports from Belarus is to introduce harsh sanitary control over imported products. Russia has already used similar measures in the past during the “milk wars” with Belarus. Russia hinted she might introduce restrictions on imports from certain Belarusian enterprises thus prompting Belarus to self-restrictions and self-regulations. Russia may turn a blind eye if imports from Belarus increase by 20%-30%; but if imports from Belarus grew exponentially, she would introduce harsh quality controls and return supplies to Belarus on formal grounds.
Since Russia’ embargo on foodstuffs from the EU could be a short-term measure, Belarus attempts to gain the maximum benefit from her membership in the Customs Union. Russia will not completely ban re-export schemes, but will limit their scope with administrative means.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.