Ulyukayev added that the embargo would not be removed completely, but that "some schemes to supply raw materials for further processing inside the country" would be developed. It is anticipated that imports of raw meat, fruit and vegetables would be the first items to be restored.
The issue of lifting the embargo on food supplies from particular EU countries was discussed during a visit to Budapest in February by Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to presidential press-secretary Dmitry Peskov.
Peskov said "counter-sanctions" could be mitigated if Western companies were to invest in the processing of raw materials in Russia, but the possibility of removing sanctions completely was still out of the question.
"We are currently considering easing the food embargo for Greece and Hungary, in particular for the supply of customer-ready raw materials," said Ulyukayev.
Russian government representatives said this would involve a scheme of "lifting the embargo in exchange for investments in processing". However, experts said such a scheme was unknown and unclear for the market.
"This is ultimately a new idea. The Russian government intends to attract money into the food industry and, firstly, the country’s meat processing sector, which recently faced a drop in profitability and investment attractiveness," commented Russian agricultural analyst Eugene Gerden.
"Theoretically, such a scheme could be interesting for certain companies, but they would definitely need time to assess all the risks and benefits, so the actual implementation of this type of plan for Greece and Hungary would probably not happen any earlier than the middle of the year," he added.
At the same time, according to Alexander Knobel, head of the laboratory for international trade at the Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy, the country’s authorities still fear that products from other EU countries will be supplied to Russia under the guise of meat products from Greece and Hungary. So, before embarking on this initiative, some system of strict country-of-origin control on all product supplies should be implemented.
The Russian government introduced a food embargo in August 2014 on meat supplies, as well as several other categories of meat products from the EU, the USA, Canada, Australia and Norway.
According to Russia’s Customs Service, imports from Greece to Russia, which are almost all food products, dropped by 20% to US$497 million in 2014 compared to 2013, while imports from Hungary fell by just 10%, to US$2.7bn.