SYDNEY: Australia on Friday called Russia's decision to ban food imports over the crisis in Ukraine disappointing, but said efforts would be made to minimise the impact on producers.
Moscow retaliated against tough new Western sanctions on Thursday by imposing the food bans on the United States and European Union, as well as Australia, Canada and Norway.
Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop criticised the move, which follows Western sanctions over Russia's alleged role in separatist violence in Ukraine.
"It is disappointing that Russia has acted in a retaliatory manner rather than respond to international concern by halting the supply of heavy weapons to the separatists," Bishop said in a statement.
These weapons included "the surface-to-air missile systems believed to have been used in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 that resulted in the tragic deaths of 38 citizens and residents of Australia", she said.
"The Australian government will do everything in its power to minimise the impact on Australian agricultural producers, including through new trade agreements and the opening up of alternative markets for their produce," Bishop added.
Australia has some sanctions on Russia, including travel bans and targeted financial sanctions, but said last week it would not follow the US and Europe in imposing tough new restrictions targeting Russia's key financial, arms and energy sectors.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the embargo would affect imports of beef, pork, fruit and vegetable produce, poultry, fish, cheese, milk and dairy products.
Australia's food exports to Russia include meat - particularly beef - livestock and animal products which were last year worth Aus$310 million (US$287 million) annually.
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said the government would do what it could to help Australian producers.
"The Australian people have a right to make a statement about what they see as an action that is wrong," Joyce told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
"And I know that this is something that is going to cause a bit of hardship in the country for rural producers but we will try our very best to work around it and find alternate markets." -AFP