Prime Minister Putin Addresses Agriculture Conference in Russia
Declaring food security, food price stabilization, and development of the agriculture and
agro-industrial sectors to be a top priority of his government,
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin today declared that Russia
has every potential to be food self-sufficient, while
simultaneously becoming a food exporter -- "a major player in the
international food market." The presentations by Putin and
Minister of Agriculture Alexei Gordeyev to a conference on the
agriculture sector made clear that Russia will use subsidies and
protective trade measures -- measures that go against the "free
trade" rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that Russia is
still attempting to join -- to defend food production as a matter
of national security.
Agricultural Minister Gordeyev told the meeting, held in the town of Yessentuki,
Stavropol Territory in the southern grain belt, that the Russian
Federation is currently importing 40% of its food. Especially
high is the level of meat imports (41% of consumption), due to
the destruction of Russia's herds during "shock therapy"
deregulation during the 1990s.
In preparation for today's meeting, Putin and Gordeyev
conferred on Friday, May 16, and made public the content of their
discussion. Gordeyev reported that 30% more acreage than last
year has been planted with grain crops so far this spring. He
stressed that yields are also going to be better this year,
because more fertilizer are available as a result of the
government's having raised export duties on fertilizer last year.
Specialists at the Russian Ministry of Agriculture, under
Gordeyev, have opposed Russia's joining the WTO, on grounds that
doing so would hamper the recovery of agriculture and damage the
country's food security.
In his speech today, Putin said that agriculture has moved
to the top of the incoming government's agenda, because of what's
happening on world food markets: "the steep rise in food prices
on world markets, which has seriously affected the situation in
Russia." He stated that the poorest layers of the population have
felt this the most -- "pensioners, families with several
children, and other socially vulnerable groups of the population,
for whom food is their main household budget item." To protect
the population, said Putin, the government must ensure price
stability in the agro-industrial sector as a whole, through more
effective anti-monopoly regulation and the use of subsidies.
Putin laid out five interim objectives for Russian
1) increase gross output, especially of grain, through
increasing the area under cultivation, as well as yields;
2) technological re-equipping of agriculture and the
food-processing industry, using innovative land and technology
leasing schemes and long-term credit.
3) achieve price stability, especially for motor lubricants
and ferilizer, using "anti-monopoly regulation and subsidies";
4) better risk management and agriculture sector insurance;
5) constant monitoring of the food products markets, "and if
prices exceed established limits, there should be automatic
measures, and I mean purchasing interventions, and regulation
using import and export tariffs."
Said Putin, "Russia has truly unique agricultural potential,
which should enable us not only to fully meet our own needs, but
to make our presence known as a major player on the world food
Gordeyev underscored that importing food, including 41% of
the meat and 26% of dairy products, cost Russia $27.6 billion in
2007. These parameters have continued to rise in recent years.
"Gordeyev considers it a necessity to increase government
subsidies for agricultural producers," reported Prime-TASS. He
posed this in terms of the need for urgent measures to cut food
imports, in view of the world situation. Gordeyev told the
meeting that Russian agricultural output can and must grow at
double or more the rate of world growth in agricultural output
(2.5-3 times faster, for grain and meat over the next 10 years,
Both officials linked the progress achieved so far to the
operation of the National Project for agriculture, which is one
of the four National Projects that President Dmitri Medvedev was
on top of as a deputy prime minister. This included incentives
for leasing arrangements in agriculture, and other ways of
channeling investment and support to the sector -- after the
livestock devastation, the removal of huge swathes of land from
cultivation, and the disappearance of thousands of villages
during the 1990s.