YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—The Russian government has offered to help Armenia increase exports of agricultural products to Russia after its ban on food imports from the West, a senior official in Yerevan revealed on Thursday.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Robert Makarian showed RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) a letter from the Russian Ministry of Agriculture citing strong demand for Armenian foodstuffs in Russia and expressing readiness to help boost their imports.
Makarian said that representatives of some Russian food retailers have already arrived in Armenia to look into its export potential. “Since they are now facing a certain shortage of agricultural products they are now more interested in seeing our products in the Russian market,” he explained.
The Armenian government has already moved to capitalize on the anticipated shortage, with Agriculture Minister Sergo Karapetian setting up a special task force for that purpose last week. The working group headed by Makarian is tasked with “increasing the volume of agricultural and food exports and organizing the export process in a coordinated manner.” The Armenian Ministry of Agriculture publicized the phone numbers of the group’s members and posted on its website export-related information for farmers and food-processing companies.
A senior executive from Spayka, an Armenian cargo company specializing in agricultural exports, agreed on Thursday that the Russian ban, imposed in retaliation for Western economic sanctions against Moscow, opened up a “good opportunity” for Armenia. Karen Baghdasarian said Spayka could triple its shipments to Russia in the coming months.
“This situation also allows us to diversify agricultural exports from Armenia given the emerging additional demand,” Baghdasarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “For example, we started exporting mushrooms a few days ago and are also planning large-scale exports of greens.”
Russia has long been the main market for Armenian fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products as well as prepared foodstuffs sold abroad. Government data put the total volume of these exports to $415 million last year. The figure is equivalent to 28 percent of the country’s total export revenue in 2013.
Makarian acknowledged that Armenia is too small an economy to be able to substitute for a large part of the food which Russia imported from the United States and the European Union until recently. But, he said, it can give a major boost to its struggling agriculture through a sharp rise in exports. “Our critics should not fear that we might have a food deficit in our own market,” added the official.
Agriculture Minister Karapetian claimed on August 13 that Armenian food exports to Russian can be doubled as early as this year.