Russia has aimed its latest cross-Atlantic swing at the American food industry.
On Thursday, the country announced the suspension of billions of dollars in food imports from a number of countries — including Norway, Canada, Australia, the United States and the 28-nation European Union — in retaliation for sanctions imposed on it by those nations over the past few weeks. The measure, which targets meat, fish, fruit, vegetable and milk products, and will last a year, is expected to hit food supplies and drive up Russian food prices. Russia spent nearly $10 billion on food from those countries that will now be banned. Going by the Russian agriculture minister's projections, the ban is expect to affect about 10 percent of the country's supply of pork, fish and fruit.
But it's also slated to negatively affect a number of U.S. food industries. Overall, the U.S. exported well over $1 billion of food to Russia last year. Poultry exports, the largest in the food category, amounted to more than $300,000 million in 2013; nut exports to Russia topped $173 million; and soy bean exports were over $156 million.
No industry will be affected quite as immediately and widely as the U.S. poultry industry. Russia accounts for roughly 7 percent of U.S. poultry exports, according to estimates by the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council. While that isn't what it used it be — in the mid-1990s, more than 40 percent of the chicken the United States exported went to Russia — it's still a considerable chunk. "Russia is not an insignificant market," Toby Moore, vice president of communications at the council, said in an interview. "It was our second-biggest market in 2013, and our third as of this past June."
But others, including the American nut industry, are likely to be affected as well. Pistachios, in particular, have been hit by the ongoing conflict between the two countries. The United States is the world's largest producer of the tree nut, and Russia is the seventh-largest importer of American pistachios. Exports to the country, however, have fallen steeply this year. Now that they're banned, American pistachio makers will have to shift those exports elsewhere or face the potential for domestic price drops. American peanuts, which haven't seen the same slowdown in Russia, don't appear to be included in the new ban. "At this point, our understanding is that the ban does not include peanuts, raw or processed," Amy Philpott, a spokeswoman for the American Peanut Council, said in an interview.
Even the pork industry, albeit small, is expected to suffer. Pork exports, which amounted to $16.1 million last year, have picked up considerably since Russia lifted a ban on U.S. swine imports in March. "Two U.S. plants regained eligibility and have been shipping since March," Joe Schuele, communications director for the U.S. Meat Export Federation, said in an interview. "And their export totals have grown quickly — they were more than $34 million this past June."
The latest Russian ban, however, pinches that momentum, and with it the hopes of building upon the potential for strong growth going forward. "Demand is quite strong [for pork] in Russia," Schuele said. "It's a market we're interested in serving if we can regain access to it."
American food makers, however, are confident that most of the adjustments they will have to make in the aftermath of Russia's suspension of food imports from the United States will be a matter of redistribution, not downsizing.
Tyson Foods, the largest poultry company in the country, certainly feels that way. "We're disappointed about the loss of the Russian market," Worth Sparkman, manager of public relations for Tyson Foods, said in an interview, "but don't expect the pact to be significant since the volume we ship there can be absorbed by other global markets."
There's reason to believe that the confidence is justified and that the long-term impact of Russia's ban will be negligible. America's beef industry, after all, did last year exactly what the poultry industry has to do now. In February 2013, Russia suspended all imports of beef because of the use of feed additives. The United States went from exporting more than $300 million in beef to Russia in 2012 to almost none the following year. And yet the American beef export industry has fared just fine. "We still don't have any plants supplying beef to Russia," Schuele said. "People who are in the meat export business understand that it can be a volatile business at times."