Russian food production BOOMING thanks to import substitutions, Western sanctions

Cheddar, Brie, Prosciutto, Blue Cheese, Bagels and Ciabatta are now all made in Russia

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.

A relatively recent phrase is now part of the lexicon of everyday life among Russians, it is “import substitution”, or if it were marketed in the USA, it would probably be packaged as “Made in Russia”.

Sanctions and similar geopolitical micro-management policies instituted by Western countries, and directed against Russia have added urgency to efforts in transferring key components of agricultural, consumer and industrial business to domestic producers. At the end of the day, it is hoped (by local companies) that Russian ones will replace the majority of foreign goods traditionally imported.

The import substitution projects are considered here to be a temporary phenomenon, a temporary tool for adjusting to the current situation.

According to President Putin. “The idea of import substitution itself is not universal and is not what we should strive for in the long run, because import substitution should not undermine competition. This is an extremely important thing. We should aim at producing products of such quality and price that it is competitive not just on our own, but on the world’s markets.”

He went on to say “In some cases we did it and are doing it to support domestic producers in difficult economic conditions, especially in situations when our partners violate and distort competition by imposing different sanctions, which are politically motivated, as they claim, but in fact are based on ambition’s to gain some advantage.”

Efforts to reduce imports began in 2014. By 2016, it was already possible to note the presence of impressive successes in many areas of the economy.

On New Year’s Day, January 1 2017 the purchase of Russian goods and services were legislated to have priority over those of foreign origin in accordance with Russian Government Decree No. 925 dated 16 September 2016. Sanctions were the stimulus, but common business sense was the driver. The new decree applies to all suppliers selling goods and services to state corporations, natural resource monopolies, as well as companies in which the Russian state has at least a 50% interest. All types of procurements are affected, as the Decree does not restrict its application to any specific goods or services.

The Decree has placed foreign goods and services suppliers at disadvantage when compared to Russian suppliers in several respects: Russian Local Suppliers will benefit from a 15% virtual discount from the prices specified in their ‘Made in Russia’ offers.

Goods are considered of Russian origin, if they are made or have been sufficiently processed in country according to customs regulations that are applicable in Russia. A supplier is Russian if it is a legal entity registered in Russia (which can be fully foreign-owned, except in cases of specifically regulated sectors, such as media) or a Russian citizen.

Introduction of these rules is to encourage foreign manufacturers to localize their production in Russia, take advantage of low ruble costs, enhance job creation, and provide needed competition between similar providers of goods and services both foreign and domestic.

Products labelled “Made in Russia” now (in 2018) appear frequently in all parts of the market.  This program of import substitution has taken on the force of a countrywide mobilization of domestic as well as non-Russian producers covering a very broad range of goods and services.

The program has one main goal – to reduce or completely stop the import of specific groups of goods, and instead establish Russian production of the same or similar products. For the past three years, this task is seen as one of the highest priorities for the government of the Russian Federation.

By 2015, approximately 20 programs were prioritized as needing assistance in non-governmentally controlled industry for the neediest sectors of private industry. To appreciate the scale of activity, as well as accountability for this challenge it is enough to see that the main players involved in supporting this effort are the Ministries of Transport, Energy, Industry & Trade, and Communications of the Russian Federation.

All have been deeply involved in this program, not to mention a raft of Russia’s analytical, research, banking and commercial associations. Fast forward to 2018, there are today just over 2,500 projects worth $38 billion in development with full completion targeted by latest 2020.

The import ban has of course affected the supply of many goods, but the boost in domestic production has taken up some of the slack. For many foodstuffs, the substitution effort has encouraged investment and development – today, according to the central bank many foodstuffs are more plentiful than they were before sanctions, and more affordable.

The areas prioritized today for Russian manufacturing are:

Machine-tool manufacture (as current imports are 90%)

Civil aviation manufacturing (as current imports are 80%)

Heavy engineering (as current imports are 70%)

Supplies of equipment for the oil and gas industry (as current imports are 60%)

Manufacture of power equipment (as current imports are 50%)

Agricultural machinery (as current imports range from 50-90% in various categories)

Many residents of Russia agree that sanctions were the long-awaited spark that has kick-started domestic producers. Almost immediately after the introduction of sanctions from the west, and reciprocal mirror responses from Russia, a number of experts have identified groups of products that can be easily replaced with domestic products on a countrywide scale without much effort.

These include Meats, Oils (several vegetable and animal varieties. At the beginning of import substitution, the share of imports was about 20%), Milk, including cheeses: by 2020, it is planned to completely “cheese independent”.

According to both international and local expertise, Russia is able to meet 90% of its food requirements, as well as providing some food support to its neighbors.

Financial support for the import substitution projects are implemented via:

  1. Government subsidies, and co-financing of research;
  2. Grants, with preference given to companies participating in government purchases.
  3. Increased lending to companies on preferential percentages and for long terms.

The proposals apply only to competitively demonstrated projects that have been approved by competent assessors. The selection is conducted among enterprises and holdings that are active in the following sectors: Agriculture; mechanical engineering; housing construction; manufacturing industry; chemical industry; power engineering; telecommunications; and transport.

The main requirement for obtaining financial support on favorable terms is the need to locate production in one of the regions of the Russian Federation.

The government has taken other measures to help support projects of import substitution. The government proposes: large targeted loans from the federal budget, financing of enterprises at the pre-production stage, special measures to stimulate import substitution through governmental or municipal procurement.

With the help of these steps, the Russian government can restrict the purchase of raw materials and finished products from foreign producers. The reflective of western embargoes also apply to the procurement of certain groups of essential goods. These include medicines, clothing, equipment manufactured by machine-building companies, technical equipment and components for the defense industry.

From the standpoint of foreign-owned companies, these measures have presented them a “fork in the road”. Either they just try to carry on, in which case eventually they will lose the Russia and associated markets, or they take the necessary steps to establish all or most of their manufacturing in Russia.

Apparently, since 2016 a great many European as well as US companies have managed to begin this process, either by setting up direct subsidiaries, or more often through imaginative origin masking methods to protect themselves against future amplified sanctions and/or other business restrictions from their own governments.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.

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