Rinkevics backs Latvia's unilateral ban on Russian grain import without waiting for EU decision

  • 2024-01-25
  • LETA/TBT Staff

RIGA - President Edgars Rinkevics backs Latvia's unilateral decision to ban Russian grain import without waiting for the European Union's (EU) common decision, the president's adviser Martins Dregeris told LETA. 

The president on Wednesday met with Prime Minister Evika Silina (New Unity). At a news conference following the meeting, Rinkevics told journalists that the matter of Russian grain imports was discussed with the prime minister. Silina, on her part, briefed the president on her Cabinet's work.

"If we look at it from two sides, this way of trading supports the Russian war machine and affects our farmers. Let's be honest. We can produce documents saying that the grain is Russian, but it is clear that some of it has been stolen from Ukrainian territory, which is now temporarily occupied by Russia," Rinkevics said.

He went on to say that a large number of EU countries do not want to prevent trade with Russia in products like fertilizers, foodstuffs of all kinds, grain, so it is difficult to include a ban on grain imports in the sanctions list.

The president said that he did not have the latest data on trade volumes in the region, which were still being compiled, but that last year Latvia imported EUR 280 million worth of Russian products, Estonia EUR 34 million, Lithuania EUR 123 million and Poland EUR 221 million.

"I remind you that these are not the latest figures, but they show that the situation is also regional. I support what the prime minister said - to start working to address this process at both national and European level. The situation is different with transit. There are geopolitical considerations that are being discussed. If we are active enough in the discussions on these issues, some steps will be taken," the president said.

Rinkevics added there is an even more serious problem - sanctions evasion in trade with so-called third countries. The president did not name the countries, but mentioned suspicious cases where suddenly a person needs seven televisions or 20 mobile phones.

In his view, the EU is not even close to dealing with the problem of third countries. The president stressed that the Baltic states are active on this issue, but this is not the easiest discussion to have with European partners. Rinkevics said that he was open to ideas that would reduce trade with and any kind of dependence on Russia and Belarus. He also stressed that Russia uses food and fertilizers as a hybrid weapon. In the president's view, this is not a humanitarian charity gesture by Russia to the countries of the 'global South'.

The prime minister said at the news conference that Latvia was the first country to delegate its representatives to raise the problem of Russian grain imports in the EU. 

"Some time ago it seemed that many things would not be possible to include in the sanctions packages against Russia. For example, if we talk about oil products, they are currently subject to sanctions. Everything takes time. My EU colleagues have their own arguments why they do not see this as an immediate problem. The discussion has only just started and the Baltic states have expressed their political support that they are ready to discuss the ban on grain imports," said Silina.

According to the prime minister, the same support needs to be found at the level of political discussions and there is support for the EU to put these issues on the agenda in the first place, which is positive. Silina has tasked the Agriculture Ministry, the Economics Ministry, the Transport Ministry and the Finance Ministry to make precise calculations of the impact of these grains on Latvia, possibly separating them from other agricultural commodities, so that a specific discussion on grains can be held.

As reported, after Spain, Latvia is the second largest importer of Russian agricultural and food products in the EU, according to data from the Agriculture Ministry.

In 2023, Latvia accounted for 12 percent of the EU's total imports from Russia, becoming the second biggest importer among the bloc's member states.

The ban of Russian grain imports and transit might cost the Latvian port and railway sectors an estimated EUR 100 million.

The Agriculture Ministry said earlier that if Latvia banned its railway and ports from reloading four million tons of Russian grain and agricultural products, which is the volume projected for 2024, the ports would lose EUR 60 million worth of revenue, while the railway would lose EUR 40 million.