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Saturday, 11 October 2014

The merchant beats the vicar once again in The Netherlands: Dutch vegetable growers ‘Turkify’ their tomatoes and deliver them to Russia through a U-turn

About ten days ago, I had a Twitter discussion with the correspondent of Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad in Russia, Steven Derix.

On his timeline, he showed a picture of blatantly Dutch cheese (of the renowned Dutch brand “Uniekaas”; or ‘union cheese’ in English) being sold in Russian supermarkets in Moscow that very day. 

Dutch "Uniekaas" in a Moscow supermarket
Picture courtesy of: Steven Derix, correspondent of NRC Handelsblad
Click to enlarge
This picture proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the Russian – European sanction complex was far from ‘waterproof’ yet.

Orbeaernie: Maybe the cheese made a U-turn through another country? Perhaps they could better name it ‘Soyuz cheese’ (i.e. ‘Union cheese’). That sounds a lot better at the moment!”

Steven Derix: ”Perhaps, we should find that out”

After that, we pondered with a few tweets about the "sensation" that genuine Russian cheese had brought to our taste buds at past occasions and abandoned the discussion.

My reaction to Steven Derix was meant jokingly, but with a serious undertone. 

While I am not particularly in favour of economic sanctions of the kind that the European Union and Russia established against each other (to the contrary), I consider those as a fact of life, at the moment. 

The whole power of such economic sanctions, however, is formed by the strictness with which these are maintained. When sanctions are not maintained at all, these are even worse than just doing nothing: they poison the atmosphere between the sanctioning countries, but yet have no effect whatsoever. Why then bother to have them in the first place?!

Today the news seems to prove – earlier than I expected – that my joking remark against Steven Derix had been spot on after all.

The Dutch newspaper 'Algemeen Dagblad' published an article about Dutch vegetables making a U-turn via Turkey, in order to be exported to Russia anyway, in spite of Russian economic sanctions. Here are the pertinent snips:


The Russians think they can decline Dutch vegetables and fruit through a strict boycott, but vegetable growers in the Westland outsmarted them with a U-turn through Turkey and by tampering with food labels. Unsuspecting Russians now eat genuine, Dutch tomatoes after all.

Dutch trading organizations are now covertly shipping tomatoes and paprikas to Turkey in blank, unlabeled crates. Having arrived there, the tomatoes will be tagged with a ‘Made in Turkey’ label and subsequently, these tomatoes and paprikas are exported to Russia effortlessly. The Turks are not boycotted by the Russians, as this country is not a member of the European Union.

By the Turkification of the vegetables and fruit, there is not a single Russian who will ever notice that he is purchasing Dutch paprikas and tomatoes and the cash registers at the growers keep ‘k-tchinging’ anyway. Only the label “Made in The Netherlands” is temporarily tabood. The method is strictly forbidden, however, as regulation describes that the origin of foodstuffs must always be retraceable.

Growers and exporters don’t care much at the moment: since the boycott started their trades diminished considerably. Last year, The Netherlands exported for about €180 million in vegetables and fruit to Russia. And that money flow has been halted since Putin showed his teeth, after the international conflict started, following the crash of MH17.

‘Some exporters earn 80% of their sales from Russia. These will be finished, when they don’t do this”, according to a wholesaler.

Nobody knows the exact amounts of fruit and vegetables, which find their way to Russia, using this “smuggling route”. Yet, packaging companies suddenly sell white, brown and black, unlabeled boxes in vast numbers. ‘To call it a peak is slightly exaggerated, but lately many, many more of such crates have been sold than normally’, according to a large seller of packaging material in the Westland.

Companies breaking the boycott, by tampering with the labels of vegetables and fruit, risk that their shipments can be rejected and they themselves can be subpoenad by the disciplinary court. Penalties for offenses could be as high as €4,250.

In the eyes of many Dutch people, this Turkish U-turn (see red and bold text) probably seems a justified way to make the Russians, with their boycotts of our DUTCH products(!), look like fools.

“What were the Russians thinking in the first place, when they established this crazy boycott. WE had all reasons to be angry, regarding the MH17 plane crash! Not they?!

Yet, I personally disapprove strongly of this Turkification of Dutch vegetables and fruit, for a number of reasons:
  • Dutch growers, acting like this, implicitely approve of the export to the European Union of forbidden foodstuffs, vegetables and meat:
    • The breeders and growers in the US or Latin America of meat, containing illegal (for the EU) growth hormones, or genetically modified vegetables (GMO’s), now would have all the justification they need, to do exactly the same and deliver their stuffs to the EU through such a U-turn;
    • Things could be even worse, when for instance Chinese producers of heavily contaminated or even (slightly) poisonous foodstuffs would use the same tactics to dump their stuff on Africa or Europe;
  • Further, these acts undermine the European boycotts against Russia too, through ‘leadership-by-example’:
    • When everybody thinks that a boycott is something that you could and even should breach without hesitation, it is the end of all boycotts;
    • Who could blame the Russian politicians and oligarchs now, when they would use all kinds of Jedi mindtricks to smuggle their cash and financial possessions passed the border, through Cyprus, Turkey or Greece, when we are doing the same with our vegetables and fruit?
  • The underlying concept that smuggling is justifiable, when your company depends on it, is something that I personally despise:
    • It is this mindset, which pushed European chemical companies and plants to deliver raw materials for chemical weapons to Iraq and Syria and other European companies to deliver building materials for nuclear plants to Iran. 
As I stated earlier, the only useful boycott is a boycott that is maintained fiercely and without allowing certain backdoors. Even in a boycott situation, there should be trust between both sides that all parties stick to the rules of the boycot, although this might sounds crazy to your ears.

The Dutch growers have now shown that they eventually don’t care about ‘food safety regulations’ and don’t give a rat’s behind about honesty and trustworthiness. This is a signal that won’t be misunderstood in other countries, importing stuff from The Netherlands.

In The Netherlands we have the beautiful expression that ‘the vicar is always battling with the merchant’ about acting right and wrong. In this case, it seems that the merchant has won; yet again!

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