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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Struggling Pasta Makers Plead for Import Quotas

Russian pasta producers pleaded with the government Tuesday to impose quotas and boost import tariffs on cheap imports, contending that the demise of their industry could pose a threat to national security.

"It's as if there is some kind of a plot to crush our industry and turn the country into a colony," said Isaaky Maidan, general director of a pasta factory in Novosibirsk, Central Siberia.

The pasta lobby, represented by about 10 pasta factory directors, wants the government to impose a customs duty of 30 to 40 percent on foreign pasta and an import quota of 80,000 tons a year until the year 2000.

Russian import duties for wheat, flour and pasta products currently stand at 15 percent, according to the State Customs Committee.

"We have reached the state when only a set of urgent measures can save us from financial crisis," Maidan said.

"So far we have an impression that the government's policy aims to strangle domestic [pasta] producers and encourage production abroad," he said. "In a civilized country, it should be the other way around."

It was the latest in a string of pleas by Russian food producers and other industries for protection from a flood of foreign imports. Among the most publicized was an attempt to ban imports of frozen U.S. chicken parts on grounds that they did not meet Russian health standards.

There was no immediate word from the government on how it might respond to the pasta lobby's cry for help.

Many producers are working at only 60 to 70 percent of capacity and are suffering declining sales because of competition from low-quality imports, mainly from Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, said Tatyana Shneider, director general of Makaron-Service pasta maker.

Russia produced 600,000 tons of pasta products in 1995, while imports totaled 240,000 tons, with the market capacity at about 900,000 tons, Shneider said

The pasta lobby also cited what it termed excessive interest rates for bank loans and high domestic prices for wheat and flour as key barriers for becoming competitive.

"Moscow has become some kind of a transit port from where all those imports pour down into the rest of the country," said Vladimir Mikhailovsky, director of the Moscow-based pasta factory Ekstra-M.

He said Moscow was able to consume 100,000 tons of pasta products a year, but saw a stream of foreign imports last year totaling 240,000 tons.

A food analyst at Alfa Capital, Irina Algunova, said Russian pasta products often are of lower quality than many Western imports because they are made from inferior flour.

"Prices for domestic and imported pasta products are very close, but the difference in quality is obvious," she said.