RIGA - Russia has banned imports of animals, meat and meat products from the Baltic states, the European Union and Eastern Europe beginning March 26, because of the foot-and-mouth disease.
The ban also applies to milk and dairy products, fish and fish products and forage. The ban will be in effect for 21 days and then a decision will be made whether to extend it.
Russia's ban will very seriously hurt Latvia's fisheries industry which could incur a loss of up to 3 million lats ($4.75 million), according to Latvian Fisheries Association President Inarijs Voits.
Last year fish and fish product exports to Russia amounted to 30.6 million lats or 84 percent of the industry's total exports, he stressed.
Voits said exports to Russia had grown by 18 percent during the first two months of this year.
"Calculate it yourselves how large these losses will be for us," he said.
He said that when Russia's ban expires, if it is not extended, Latvian fishing companies will not be able to recover the loss incurred during that period, although the Russian market will likely have developed a shortage of fish by then.
Estonian fish producers admitted Russia's ban on fish imports will cause some trouble for their companies, but less than in Latvia.
"I don't believe our current business is going to be in trouble, but the news may halt the company's development," said Agu Laanemets, manager of the Estonian Viru fish processing factory.
Exports to Russia had dried up anyway with the approach of spring, Laanemets said, so the management will look for new markets in Ukraine and elsewhere. Viru exported about 50 percent of its output to Russia in 2000.
Latvian Prime Minister Andris Berzins believes Russia's ban on fish and fish-product imports from the European Union, Eastern Europe and the Baltic states is a mistake.
Berzins told BNS Russia's wish to protect itself from foot-and-mouth disease is understandable, but the decision to ban imports of fish and fish products seems illogical because the disease does not affect fish.
The ban will not cause large losses in the dairy industry because milk and dairy exports to Russia are small, said Latvian Dairies Central Union Chairman Margers Rava.
"Maybe a couple of cargo loads monthly go to Russia," he said.
Meat export volumes to Russia are also small, according to sanitary border inspection chief Janis Kinna, as most meat and meat products are carried through Latvia in transit.
Lithuanian and Estonian meat exporters are not worried. Gediminas Radzevicius, president of the Lithuanian Meat Processors' Association, hopes that Russia's ban will be short.
Lithuania exported 17,000 tons of beef to Russia in 2000, however, the exports declined sharply this year due to a meat shortage on the domestic market.
Estonia has exported only small amounts of meat and meat products to Russia recently, BNS reported.
The meat import bans imposed throughout Europe have created problems for Latvian truckers, as many countries have banned even the transit of meat and related stuff, said Pavels Grosevs, deputy secretary general at the Latvian international truckers' association Latvijas Auto.
He said that many truckers have already turned to Latvijas Auto requesting assistance, as they're left with very few choices of what to do with the undeliverable cargo.
Russia imports 2 million tons of meat annually, which makes up one-third of the country's total consumption.
In Europe foot-and-mouth disease has been detected in Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and France. Although transportation of animals is restricted and broad disinfectant measures are under way in Europe there nevertheless remain concerns the disease may threaten the entire continent.