Car Imports Plunge By 95% in Far East

The number of cars imported through Vladivostok has dropped nearly 95 percent since a controversial tariffs increase came into effect earlier this month, a customs official said Friday.

"Now, we process around 50 automobiles per day," said Igor Vlasenko, head of the Far East Customs Administration, Interfax reported. Last year, around 900 foreign cars were imported per day, he said.

Vlasenko said 35 percent of collected customs duties in the Far East came from auto imports in 2008, a figure he said he expected to drop off sharply this year.

Other points of entry in the Far East have witnessed similar drops.

Sakhalin has not imported a single foreign make since the tariffs took effect, said Maxim Kizhayev, deputy head of the Sakhalin customs department, Interfax reported.

In 2008, the island imported from 120 to 240 cars per week from Japan.

On Jan. 12, the government raised duties on foreign-made cars, including hikes of as much as 80 percent depending on the age of the vehicle. The move, intended to help domestic carmakers, drew criticism from the European Union and widespread protests by domestic motorists, especially in the Far East, where thousands could lose their jobs as importers go out of business.

Importing used cars from Japan is popular in the Far East, as it is expensive to ship domestically produced autos -- most of which are made in the European part of Russia.

More than 100 protesters were detained in Vladivostok on Dec. 20 and 21 after riot police broke up a demonstration.