Kersbeek-Miskom is a small community in the Belgian province of Flemish Brabant. If you travel here by car, you can see thousands of fruit trees: the area is famous for its delicious pears.
Luc Borgugnons and his wife take care of a 30-hectare family pear garden. Luc has been working here since 1979.
Even though he runs a small Belgian business, just like his neighbors Luc employs people from other EU member states.
With a staff of less than 40 people working in peak months, the Borgugnons farm sells over one million kilos of pears annually. After refrigerated trucks pick up the produce in 40-kilogram containers, the pears are being shipped to Germany, France, Holland, China and Spain, as well as to other countries – everywhere except Russia.
Flemish Brabant is famous for its Conference pears. Pear garden owner Luc Borgugnons says before 2014 about 30% was exported to Russia. pic.twitter.com/AvAFwPHz9G— Denis Bolotsky (@BolotskySputnik) 28 декабря 2016 г.
The situation flipped from idyllic to critical in just a few months. In 2014 the EU imposed sanctions on Russia over the situation in Ukraine. Moscow retaliated by banning some of Europe’s food exports, including fruit from Belgium. Luc Borgugnon says no one expected that.
The sanctions were imposed two weeks before the harvest, so it caused panic, because the pears were on the trees and we discovered that we cannot sell 30% of them to Russia anymore. So the impact was significant because we didn’t know what to do with our produce.
EU officials set aside 125 million euros to pay farmers for their unsold produce affected by the Russian embargo. For Luc the subsidy meant that he could leave about 10% of his pears on the trees.
Over the past two and a half years Belgian exporters found different markets for their produce and the embargo problem is now not as bad as it used to be.
Europe is currently split over the issue of sanctions. Many politicians in Italy, Greece, Spain are calling for an end to restrictive measures, while Angela Merkel of Germany and Francois Hollande of France would rather see punitive measures remain in place.
However, with the growing popularity of the pro-Russian politicians in Western Europe, and with Donald Trump’s victory in the US, things may change.
Despite the years of embargo, Belgian exporters are keeping in touch with their partners in Moscow. If EU decides to lift its sanctions and Russians do the same in response, Belgian farmers are ready to resume shipments to Russia. However, Luc doubts that the market share will be the same:
Of course, the question is, whether we will be able to sell 30% again, I’m not sure about it, maybe we’ll be selling less than that, but we found a couple of different markets instead, so we are certainly prepared to go to Russian market, and are hoping to sell a lot of pears there.
The EU's restrictive financial measures target entire sectors of the Russian economy, including banking, energy and defense. Besides that, some 149 Russian citizens are banned from entering Europe.
In the end of 2016 the EU decided to continue punishing Russia by prolonging the sanctions until July 31st, 2017.
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