Putin’s ban on U.S. products looks to have minimal effect on Washington products, from chicken lips to apples

Washington dealers in chicken offal might be worried, but otherwise the import restrictions recently established by Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t have an overwhelming effect on Washington growers, farmers or orchardists.

The State Department of Agriculture reports that Washington exported $104 million worth of agricultural products to Russia in 2013.

That’s from total international exports of $8.8 billion.

The main exports to Russia last year comprised frozen fish, apples, pears and poultry, with the latter category including some fresh poultry but “mainly frozen,” according to department spokesman Mike Louisell.

Poultry exports to Russia accounted for $14 million last year, down from $18 million in 2012.

After poultry on the list came fish fillets, fruit juices, potatoes, apricots, cherries and peaches.

Is there fear among growers that the new trade barriers will have a significant effect?

“I would say no,” Louisell said.

Any ban on apple imports could have an indirect effect, said Todd Fryhover, president of the Wenatchee-based Washington State Apple Commission.

This year’s harvest is expected to be the largest ever recorded, he said, pegged at 140 million bushels. If realized, that figure would be “up 18 to 21 percent” over the previous harvest.

And other markets could be found.

The greater concern is that apple growers in other countries which face a ban – especially from the European Union – will also be looking to increase trade with nations other than Russia.

Of $900 million in-state apple exports in 2012, Russia spent some $12 million.

“I think the bigger picture is on the world stage,” Fryhover said.

“If the EU can’t go in, and they are large producers, what’s the effect on other markets?” he said. “As Poland is the largest in the EU, they’re going to be heavily impacted. Increased shipments (will go) into the Middle East. We are going to anticipate increased exports into Southeast Asia.”

The total impact for Washington growers, he said, “will not be significant, but it will not be insignificant also. We do have the ability to adjust. We will adjust. To lose any market will have impacts.”

Putin’s initial one-year ban includes fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products. The most heavily affected U.S. sectors, according to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, will be poultry, pork and tree nuts.