Belgium’s farmers have lost about 5% of turnover because of the Russian sanctions, Russian trade representative in that country, Anatoly Gorshkov, told TASS on Tuesday.
“Sanctions that have been in place for two years already have done no good to businesses, either Russia or Belgian. The sanctions have entailed a considerable trade decline, a freeze of partnership on a number of high technology projects. They have hurt Belgian farmers: we used to import from Belgium pears, tomatoes, pork, and dairy products. According to Belgium’s estimates, its farming sector has lost about five percent of turnover,” he said.
Belgium’s exports of farming products accounts for about eight percent of its entire exports. In 2014, export of farming products stood at €27.8 billion, or slightly more than 7.8% of overall exports (€356.3 billion).
According to Gorshkov, Belgian farmers have managed to somehow adapt to the Russian sanctions “but not entirely.”
“The situation is difficult with dairy products. Selling their products on the European Union’s markets they only add to internal competition. Some of their exports have been re-directed to Africa but it exerts pressure on local producers. The Belgians however are not ready to localize agricultural production in Russia,” the Russia trade representative noted.
Russia’s overall trade was not very big, Gorshkov noted. According to Belgium’s National Bank, Russia-Belgium trade dropped by 28% in January 2016 on January 2015.
Russia’s overall trade in 2015 was down by more than 30% and its trade with Belgium decreased by 22%, to 11.4 billion euro.
“This decrease is slightly less than the one in terms of the European Union in general. Exports stood at €8.3 billion, imports – at €3.1 billion, i.e. we have managed to preserve a trade surplus. But our exports reduced in 2015 by less than 22% whereas our imports dramatically sagged,” he said.
According to official statistics, practically half of Russia’s exports to Belgium are energy sources – oil and oil products. Next are precious metals, precious and semiprecious stones and article made of them.
“First of all, it is uncut diamonds. Practically all Russian diamond exports go via Belgium, via the Antwerp World Diamond Center. Materials coming from Russia account for up to 40% of their turnover. Actually, Belgium depends on Russia in this respect and it never tries to conceal it,” Gorshkov stressed.
In his words, exports of cut and uncut diamonds slightly decreased in 2015 but the situation is recovering in 2016.
Although Russia’s aggregate exports have considerably dropped in monetary terms, their physical volumes are practically the same.
“It means that Russian exports keep their positions on the Belgian market. And as for Belgium’s exports to us, they have sagged dramatically. The Belgians are obviously losing their positions on the Russian market. It concerns primarily the commodity covered by Russia’s counter-sanctions,” he said.
Investments frozen, interest stay in place
“The overall downwards tendency in trade and economic relations has told on investment cooperation as well, although several dozen Belgian companies are successfully working in Russia,” Gorshkov noted.
Belgium’s direct investments to Russia amounted to $1.08 billion in the first nine months of 2015, and Russia’s investments to Belgium were $490 million.
“The sanctions considerably impeded cooperation between our countries in the area of space technologies and licensing dual-use products. However we continue to work on new projects in the sphere of transport and logistics,” he said, citing as a good example of transport cooperation relations between Russia’s Rosmorport and Belgium’s ports of Antwerp, Ghent and Zeebrugge.
“Belgium is known for its logistics companies operating across the globe. They show interest in Russia as they see serious perspectives for cooperation. Belgian ports also demonstrate special interest to Russia. It is a very good trade route from Russia to faraway regions, such as Latin America, Africa,” he said.
The Russian trade representative underscored that Russian companies investing in Belgium and operating on its market “have no particular problems.”
“Belgium has an enormous volume of foreign investments which is growing year after years. The Belgians take good care of their investment climate. They have no special restrictions in respect of Russia however they observe official European Union’s sanctions,” Gorshkov noted.
More than 50 Russian companies have contacted Russia’s trade mission in Belgium since the beginning of 2016 asking to help gain a foothold on the Belgian market.