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Russia lifts import restrictions for Turkish tomato trade

The protracted negotiations to lift the ban imposed on Turkish tomato exports to Russia, which have topped the agenda of Turkish-Russian talks since January 2016, recently yielded positive results, with Russia agreeing to import Turkish tomatoes on a limited basis. 

With the lifting of the restrictions, the first shipment to Russia has been made from the Bergama district of İzmir province.

Tomatoes harvested in Bergama's Agrobay greenhouses were loaded onto trucks and sent to an unacknowledged leading retail chain in Russia's St. Petersburg.

The tomatoes will be delivered to 750 grocery stores across the country.

Speaking to the Anadolu Agency (AA), Agrobay Greenhouse board member Arzu Şentürk said the board had signed a contract to export 5,000 tons of tomatoes this year to Russia, adding that they had delivered 10,000 tons of tomatoes prior to the jet downing crisis of November 2015.

Şentürk said the reopening of the tomato export market is good, noting that the political developments surrounding the jet downing crisis had resulted in the halting of shipments to Russia, despite the signing of a sales contract with the Russian grocery chain last year.

Explaining that Agrobay Greenhouse had signed the agreement with one of Russia's biggest discount store chains, and sent the first product, Şentürk recalled that the Russian market had been Turkey's biggest market since 2003. Adding that the 10,000 tons of tomatoes delivered prior to the jet downing crisis were part of the 14,000 tons in annual production formerly slated for export to Russia prior to the crisis.

"Since the closing of the tomato export market to Russia last year, we have increased our domestic market share to 65 percent and found new customers in Europe. Even though Russian buyers want a bigger portion of our capacity, we will not give it to them," Şentürk said, adding that Agrobay Greenhouse has made a deal for the export of 5,000 tons of tomatoes and aims to increase this number to a price-oriented 7,000 tons.

"According to market owners in Russia, tomatoes were sold for $30 per kilogram last year, which is why consumption was very low. I think that this import will be good for Russians as well, considering that we made the first shipments at $1.50 per kilogram," he said.

Explaining that Agrobay Greenhouse had turned down the offers of some Russian companies for joint investments in the process, Şentürk stressed that they will maintain the policy of reducing Turkey's dependence on the Russian market in the future and take measures to expand in markets across the Middle East and the U.S.

Russia, which is Turkey's largest market for tomatoes, halted imports due to the crisis that began after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane in November 2015. After a rapprochement between the two countries, both parties reached an agreement on the shipment of Turkish tomatoes to the Russian market with an annual capacity of 50,000 tons.

Turkey's annual tomato exports to Russia totalled $260-270 million before the crisis.

Russia's Agriculture Deputy Minister Dzhambulat Khatuov said Thursday that all problems regarding the supply of agricultural goods from Turkey have been resolved.

The Russian government announced that limited tomato imports from Turkey would be allowed starting November 1.

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