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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S.Wants Aid to Help Farmers In Russia

WASHINGTON -- The United States says it is seriously considering a request from Moscow for additional food aid, but said this time any assistance must benefit struggling Russian farmers.

The United States is in the midst of shipping more than 3 million metric tons of food to Russia under a pact reached late last year. About half of the food was donated and the rest bought with U.S. low-interest, long-term loans.

The food is then sold in Russia, with most of the proceeds deposited into the depleted state pension fund.

The $1 billion program was a welcome boost for U.S. farmers, who are earning little for their crops due to huge worldwide supplies and declining export demand.

But critics say that if the United States wants to provide more food to Russia, this time the aid should help Russian farmers. They are harvesting another dismal crop due to bad weather, lack of machinery and outdated methods.

"We have to be careful not to reduce incentives for Russian farmers to produce food," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman told a House Agriculture Committee hearing Wednesday.

Moscow wants an additional 5 million tons of grain and planting seeds in the form of a U.S. donation, not loans.

"They asked for donation only, but that is something that we will negotiate," Glickman said.

Representative Marcy Kaptur, an Ohio Democrat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, criticized the current package, saying that of the proceeds from the current $1 billion package, only about $2.3 million have been funneled to farm reforms, she said.

"The future of Russia depends on her successful transition in the agricultural sector," Kaptur said.

The request for more aid took on added urgency Wednesday when Moscow said its grain crop was worse than expected.

Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shcherbak cut the grain harvest forecast by about 4 million tons to 58 million.

U.S. officials estimate Russia's grain crop will be closer to 55 million tons, still higher than the disastrous 1998 harvest of less than 48 million tons.

U.S. food aid would be "aimed at stabilizing our agriculture," Shcherbak said. "We intend to sell this [grain] at market prices to create a foundation to ensure investment."

The European Union, which gave $500 million of commodities to Russia this year, has said Moscow does not need more help.

Washington will not make a decision until it analyzes Russia's food needs and distribution of the current package. "My judgment is that the decision will be made in a couple of months," after the White House has conferred with several other U.S. agencies and departments, Glickman said.

The U.S. Agriculture Department's general sales manager, Richard Fritz, arrived in Moscow on Thursday to discuss a new package of food aid, Interfax reported.

Fritz was to meet Friday with Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shcherbak for talks, the agency said.