A Russian expert group is to visit India shortly to study the situation on the ground and review a long-standing ban on the export of Indian bovine meat to Russia.

Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said he had taken up the problem of curbs on the export of Indian farm produce to Russia with his Russian counterpart, Yelena Skrynnik, during their bilateral meeting on Friday on the sidelines of the first meeting of Agriculture Ministers from the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

“There are a lot of restrictions on exports to Russia,” Mr. Pawar told Indian media on Saturday before leaving Moscow for Delhi. “Russian rules and regulations are stricter than internationally accepted requirements. We have to explain our position to the Russian side.”

In the past Russia repeatedly imposed temporary bans on Indian plant products and is still to open its market to Indian meat.

Mr. Pawar said India was exporting bovine meat and poultry products to 60 countries, including in Europe, and there was “enormous potential” for exports to Russia. According to Ms. Skrynnik, Russia last year imported 6,00,000 tonnes of poultry and one million tonnes of meat. On poultry at least, the Russian Agriculture Minister did not rule out “in principle” imports from India, should there be a shortfall on the Russian market.

Russia in turn is interested in exporting grains to India. Mr. Pawar explained to Ms. Skrynnik that following a bumper crop last year India was not planning any wheat imports, but could buy pulses and oil seeds from Russia.

For Mr. Pawar it was not his first brush with Russia. As Defence Minister he visited this country in 1992, soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He recalled that those were “tough times” for India, whose armed forces depended 80 per cent on Russian product support.

“To do a one-day work you had to spend at least 7-8 days in Russia,” Mr. Pawar said. “There was no longer any single production centre for defence items and if you wanted a particular spare part, you had to go, say, to Kazakhstan. The financial situation in the defence sector was very bad and we had to make advance payments to manufacturers so that they could buy raw materials.”

Russia has travelled a long way since those days, Mr. Pawar said.

“The Russian economy has come up and the system of government has much improved.”

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