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March 2014: Tensions begin to build between Russia and EU

As the month of March progressed the political instability in the Ukraine was beginning to effect the fresh produce imports and exports to the country. The cost of fresh produce had increased by 10% in February, citrus rose by 20%.

The Ukrainian border with Poland was closed due to the situation and no fruit or veg imports or exports took place. One Polish apple exporter said that if the situation continued it would greatly affect the market, Poland exported 200,000 tonnes of apples to Ukraine every year.

Similarly imports of Greek kiwis had ground to a halt. A Ukrainian importer said that it was becoming more and more difficult to purchase fresh produce from abroad. "The value of our currency has dropped steadily making everything very expensive, to add to this the banks are taking a long time to supply foreign currency which makes payment very slow."

The threat that the political climate could have significant ramifications for European exporters had many European shippers hoping for a quick resolution to any political issues EU countries and Russia may have.

“If Russia bans any European produce, then it's obvious that this will be a big problem for exporters currently working with Russia,” said Eric Guasch, President of AFRAA, an organization dedicated to promoting trade between the two nations.

Kris Wouters from Fruit Trade Wouters explained that at the time they weren't noticing too much effects of the situation but it all depended on what Europe would do. He said, "If they are openly going to support Ukraine against Russia then we can expect something. But so far there are no real sanctions".

The European Commission proposed applying unilateral temporary customs advantages for Ukraine. These advantages would be implemented before the document is signed, as an urgent measure to support Ukraine's ailing economy.

The decision pending ratification allowed Ukraine to enter its fruit and vegetables, mainly from the summer harvest, into the EU without paying tariffs. This would save the country some 400 million Euro.

On the other hand the Russian market reopened to Dutch seed potatoes at the end of March.

But Russia set up its own payment system after Visa and Mastercard pulled their services from several banks in the wake of the sanctions imposed on the country.

The EU announced it would ban Indian mangoes and some vegetables from the 1st of May after several batches were found to be contaminated by pests such as fruit flies.

The big news this month was that Chiquita was to merge with Fyffes to create the world’s largest banana company. The name would change to ChiquitaFyffes and be listed on the New York Stock Exchange but domiciled in Ireland.

Another Irish multi-national was also in the news, Total Produce had made major changes in its organisation over the past months by bringing together 35 technical managers across Europe, some existing members of staff and some new hires.

Mastronardi Produce was to be one of Canada's Best Managed Companies for the fifth consecutive year.

A group of Ontario investors announced that they planed to run the century-old Heinz plant and take over producing and distributing tomato juice in the Canadian market. The move spared 250 of the 740 workers slated to lose their jobs in Leamington, Ontario, widely known as the tomato capital of Canada.

Zespri admitted that a controversial dual invoicing system that got them in trouble in China, was also used in Taiwan, but denied colluding with importers to avoid duty on kiwifruit imports.

California shipped a record volume of grapes, 117.4 million boxes (116.2 19-pound box equivalents) during the 2013 season, a total crop value of $1.7 billion.

The latest forecast for California's Valencia orange crop showed that dry weather had not negatively impacted production. California's growers were expected to grow 24 million cartons of Valencia oranges in 2014, roughly on par with production from the previous two seasons, which were both at 25 million cartons.

South African grape producers were not having an easy time of it, they were again hit by unseasonal rain, they had been hit by rain and hail earlier in the season.

Just as the Indian grape season was well on track to be a good export year, with volumes expected to be well up on last year, the region of Maharashtra was struck by unseasonal hailstorms which affected mangoes and pomegranates as well as the grape production. The area had also been affected by heavy rain in the past two weeks. Europe did not escape the weather either when the Stonefruit sector in north-eastern Spain was on alert due to frosts and when sudden frost caused 30% loss to early almond varieties.

A freeze in Chile during the budding time had caused damage to this year's kiwi crop. The drop in production was likely to result in higher prices in the United States, kiwis prices equalled a 20 year high.

Australia was experiencing a potato shortage which sent prices soaring after a summer heatwave and ­extreme wind had disrupted harvests and planting in the production heartland of South Australia.

In Mexico the National Peasant Confederation (CNC) demanded that the government act strongly against the middlemen who had increased the price of a kilo of limes above 80 pesos, an increase higher than 600%, making them almost twice as expensive as a kilo of chicken, beef or pork.

Turners & Growers were forecasting strong global sales for the 2014 ENZA apple season, on the back of favourable growing conditions in New Zealand.

The South African apple and pear harvests were well underway, and the pomme fruit exporters faced a challenging export season. Volumes were down after hail storms hit during the growing season and European stocks were relatively good.

On a more positive note the South African avocado industry was expecting a healthy export crop of 58,000 tonnes. Shipments would arrive in Europe towards the end of the month.

The new South African red blush pear 'Cheeky', was a hit in Europe, currently being grown on 350 hectares in the Western Cape.

This year also saw the first red kiwi from Turners and Growers hit the shelves. "2014 is the first year that we have had commercial volumes coming off our Kerikeri ENZARed blocks, and we estimate around 15,000 trays will be available for export and market testing this season," said Rosstan Mazey, Global Marketing Manager at Turners and Growers.

And finally on Monday, third of March, the new rail shuttle from Herik Rail was officially launched. This new rail shuttle made it possible to transport (fresh) cargo from Amsterdam to Milan in just 21 hours.