Moscow’s ban on imports of US soybeans could have set Russia up for a tangle over genetically-modified crops if it is to gain enough oilseeds for its burgeoning livestock industry – at least, according to US officials.
While Russia in 2014 banned a swathe of agricultural imports from the US and many other countries, in tit-for-tat sanctions stemming from Western concerns over the Ukraine war, soybeans were – until this month – exempted from the curbs – and indeed reached a 45-year high last year.
“Untouched by Russia’s food import embargo, soybeans were the number one US agricultural export to Russia in 2015, reaching nearly $190m, the highest export level since 1970,” the US Department of Agriculture’s bureau in Moscow said, saying the increase reflected expansion in livestock output.
“The growth of US soy exports has been largely attributable to Russia’s efforts to grow its modern poultry and livestock industries,” and reduce its historic dependence on meat imports.
Oilseed meals such as soymeal, a high-protein feed ingredient processed from soybeans, are key inputs for efficient livestock production. However, oilseeds comprise a relatively small portion of Russian crop output.
However, Russia two weeks ago imposed “temporary” restrictions on imports of US soybeans, and in the small volumes of popcorn brought in too – citing “violations of international and Russian phytosanitary requirements”.
Russia’s phytosanitary watchdog, VPSS, which undertook phone negotiations with Washington officials, said that the US had not undertaken “effective measures for preventing delivery” of pests which, in imported corn, it claimed could cause damage 10bn-15bn roubles ($130m-200m) of they spread to domestic crops.
And while Alexander Tkachyov, Russia’s agriculture minister, has said that the country can source soybeans from other origins, the USDA bureau raised doubts over this assertion.
“It is questionable whether Russia will be able to replace US imports of soybeans,” the bureau said.
While soybean stocks worldwide are plentiful, the bureau highlighted a potential squeeze on supplies of crop meeting Russia’s rules over genetically modified crops.
Recently VPSS publically noted that the stacked, genetically engineered soybean variety, Intacta, widely planted in Paraguay and Brazil, has not yet been approved in Russia,” the bureau said, with “stacked” varieties containing a blend of GM traits.
“Moreover, Russia does not yet have regulations for the risk assessment and approval of stacked genetically engineered events.”
This could present a difficulty, especially given the position of Mr Tkachyov as “an outspoken critic of the use of genetic engineering in agriculture”.
‘Manoeuvres to block US trade’
The bureau added that Russia’s ban on imports of US corn and soybeans appeared to be part of trend of using phytosanitary, or “SPS”, concerns as an embargo tool.
“This action by VPSS seems to be part of a series of SPS-related manoeuvres to block imports of US products.
“While VPSS has noted incidents of unacceptable levels of contaminants in soybeans imported from other countries – namely Brazil and Argentina – it has not threatened an outright ban of shipments from those other countries,” the bureau added.
(Source – http://www.agrimoney.com/news/russia-faces-gm-crop-tangle-after-banning-imports-of-us-soy–9335.html)