Polish apples hit in sanctions battle, European glut in sight

GMT 01:32 2014 Saturday ,06 September

Arab Today, arab today Polish apples hit in sanctions battle, European glut in sight

An apple orchard near Leczyszyce
Wolka Leczeszycka - AFP

His apple trees are bending under the weight of ripening fruit, yet Polish orchard-owner Ryszard Wozniak is worried: a Russian embargo on apples from Poland, the world's top exporter, has floored prices and could cause a glut on European markets.
Under a brilliant blue sky, Ukrainian seasonal workers hand-pick a sweet Gala variety in the 10-hectare (25-acre) orchard, gently placing them in baskets strapped to their shoulders.
"The Russian embargo has made prices plummet," said Wozniak, gazing at the orchard bearing up to 50 tonnes of apples per hectare.
"Last year, a kilogramme of apples sold for about two zlotys (0.47 euros, $0.62). Now we're being offered 0.60 zloty, or half of the cost of production.
Poland grew three million tonnes of apples last year. It normally exports a third, mainly to Russia.
Wozniak is also vice president of the Rajpol apple growers' cooperative in Wolka Leczeszycka, nestled in central Poland's Grojec apple hub.
Its 130 growers own a combined 1,200 hectares of orchards producing 40,000 tons of fruit each year.
Until now, 30 percent of it went to Russia. But from August 1, Moscow imposed a ban on Polish apples, part of its retaliation against EU and US sanctions.
Those sanctions were in response to the annexation by Russia of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula and subsequent alleged military support for pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.
- 'Stand up to Putin' -
While the Polish government is scrambling to find funds to ease the blow to growers, young Poles have launched the "#jedzjalbka" (eat apples) campaign on social media, particularly Twitter, encouraging their compatriots to bite back by eating more of the fruit.
Journalists, politicians and average Poles are mocking the Russian embargo by tweeting their pictures munching on apples or drinking Polish cider captioned with a jab aimed at the Russian president: "Eat apples, stand up to Putin".
A supermarket chain advert for apples at a Warsaw bus stop reads "Patriotism never tasted so good", while cafes in the capital are treating customers to free apples with their coffee.
Mountains of them are also being bought and handed out in schools, nurseries, charities and food banks.
"Apple consumption in Poland has gone up a little, but it isn't enough," said Wozniak.
Poland's Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki admitted the Polish market will not be able to absorb all of the fruit which Russia has turned away.
"We're looking to China, Japan as well as Arab and African states," he told AFP. Warsaw is also in talks with the United States and Canada.
- Increased EU help -
Sawicki said that Poland would ask the European Commission to increase help for Polish growers, insisting that the 125 million euros it offered in compensation was not enough.
He also argued that the problems of Polish growers could destabilise the entire European apple market, a topic that EU agriculture ministers meeting in Brussels on Friday were expected to address.
"If the EU doesn't provide adequate compensation and our growers are forced to sell their products on the German, French or British market, we could block or destabilise them for several years," he said.
"We aren't asking for compensation for a better life, but so as not to destabilise the European market," Miroslaw Maliszewski, president of the Association of Polish Growers, told AFP, adding that the "European Commission should be more flexible".
He said: "Our production costs are much lower and we can cope with the downturn longer than our Western partners.
"French or German growers would immediately go bankrupt if they would sell at the same price as Poles."

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