A Devon MP has called for an end to Russian trade sanctions which are “disproportionately” hitting UK pork and dairy farmers.
Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish claims already hard-pressed farmers are “paying a very high price” for the ban on food exports, imposed in 2014.
And he has urged farming ministers to initiate trade talks with Russia, in a bid to ease pressure on British pork and dairy markets.
His comments come as farmers across the South West continue to struggle with low prices for meat and dairy products. The sector is experiencing the lowest average milk price for seven years, prompting the National Farmers Union (NFU) to call on all within the supply chain to recognise the seriousness of the situation.
Taking up the issue in Parliament, Mr Parish highlighted the role that ongoing Russian trade sanctions are playing in the crisis. He argues that the ban on EU food exports is contributing to the current flooding of the European market, pushing prices down in the UK.
The restrictions were introduced by Russia, in retaliation for EU sanctions imposed in the wake of the country’s interference in the Ukraine. But Mr Parish argues European farmers are paying a “disproportionately high price” for the ban and asked Defra ministers whether there is “any chance” of getting EU back into the market.
“I can understand that Russia has behaved extraordinarily badly towards the Ukraine, but we’ve got to get to a situation where we can negotiate this ban… because it really has hit pork and dairy in particular,” he said.
“Russians are paying their farmers roughly 40p per litre for milk because they have such a shortage, and we have plenty of milk but can’t sell it.
“Farming and food has got into the international political agenda, and I was trying to extract it. It’s time we ease back slightly and try and get those markets re-opened.”
British milk and dairy only makes up a small percentage of exports to Russia, but the ban also affects the Polish and Lithuanian dairy sector, which previously traded heavily into Russia.
Now that these countries cannot export good East, they are trading back into the EU, flooding the market and forcing down prices across Europe.
Responding to Mr Parish, farming minister George Eustice acknowledged that the Russian trade embargo “has exacerbated the challenges facing the dairy sector and the pig sector”.
“However, we put in place sanctions against Russia because of its totally unacceptable conduct against Ukraine and its incursions into Ukrainian territory,” he said.
“It is important that we show solidarity with other European countries and do not accept how Russia has behaved towards Ukraine.”