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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Politicians, Businessmen Form Agriculture Lobby

A group of oligarchs, businessmen, governors, State Duma deputies and a deputy agriculture minister joined Tuesday to create a union to lobby the government on behalf of the country's farmers and investors in the food industry.

"The agriculture sector desperately needed some kind of power that would formulate an idea and then lobby it until it becomes law," said Viktor Semyonov, a former agriculture minister who is now a Duma deputy and board chairman at the Belaya Dacha farm near Moscow.

The group will be the first of its kind in the agriculture sector. Farmers' interests were previously represented by leftist political parties, mostly Communists, that had no experience dealing with real agricultural problems. The group will unite the sugar, meat, poultry, corn and other sectors, which previously had their own lobbying groups.

Alexander Pesov, a union spokesman, stressed that the union is a lobbying group, not a political party or trade union, to represent the roughly 40 million people who are involved in the agriculture sector.

Among the 58 people gathered were representatives from the Interros holding, Alfa Group, Metalloinvest, Wimm-Bill-Dann, Deputy Agriculture Minister Anatoly Mikhalyov and regional governors.

Dmitry Kravchenko, a spokesman for Agros, an agriculture company set up by Interros, said that "the tasks and missions of the union are understood ... and we are willing to take part in it."

While they could not agree on the name of the union, tentatively called the Russian Agrarian-Food Union, the group's main tasks were set, Pesov said. Among the group's goals are laws on the buying and selling of agricultural land, changes to customs policies, and entry to the World Trade Organization, he said.

"We hope that the union will play a positive role for the Russian agriculture industry while entering the WTO," said Fyodor Klyuka, president of Metalloinvest's meat, milk and grain holding, Stoilenskaya Niva.

"The union is a sign that the government began supporting the development of agriculture business," he said.

Pesov said that the meeting unanimously supported the Agriculture Ministry's decision to ban imports of U.S. poultry. "U.S. health standards do not fit Russia's," he said.

Semyonov, the Duma deputy and a union founder, agreed.

"The state policy must be protectionist in regard to local producers," he said, adding that the first meeting "was not very successful, or effective, as was expected," but the meeting itself meant a lot.

"The authority of the union must become so strong that without consultation with this organization no important decisions would be made [in the agriculture industry] -- right up to the candidacy of the agriculture minister," Semyonov said.