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Exports of Armenian fresh fruits and vegetables mostly going to Russia have almost doubled in physical terms this year, Armenia’s Ministry of Agriculture said on Wednesday.

According to official statistics released by Deputy Agriculture Minister Robert Makarian, they have totaled 143,000 metric tons since the beginning of 2016, up from 73,700 tons in 2015. About 85 percent of those products have been shipped to Russia, he said.

Makarian insisted that the figures are not inflated. “If I lied, I would say that the exports have tripled,” he told a yearend news conference.

According to separate data from the National Statistical Service (NSS), Armenia exported almost $60 million worth of fruits and vegetables in January-October 2016, up by 77.5 percent year on year. Its overall exports to Russia likewise soared by more than half to $295 million in that period.

Armenian exports to Russia plummeted by nearly 27 percent last year primarily because of the Russian ruble’s sharp depreciation caused by the collapse of world oil prices. The much weaker ruble more than offset a drastic increase in the physical volume of Armenian agricultural exports which was also registered in 2015. The Russian currency’s exchange rate has been largely stable this year.

Armenia - Grapes harvested at a vineyard in the Ararat Valley, 9Sep2013.
Armenia - Grapes harvested at a vineyard in the Ararat Valley, 9Sep2013.

Armenian brandy and wine companies, traditionally oriented towards the Russian market, were hit particularly hard in 2015. Some of them have still not paid for grapes purchased from farmers. Makarian put their combined debt to the farmers at 155 million drams ($320,000).

The biggest debtor, a winery called Vinar, owes about 100 million to residents of three wine-growing villages in the southern Ararat province. Many of them have staged regular protests over the past year. They have repeatedly received assurances from Vinar and the government that they will soon receive payment for their grapes.

Makarian announced that the Ministry of Agriculture has asked state prosecutors to investigate the “irresponsible” company.

Vinar’s chief executive, Avet Galstian, denied any fraudulent practices. “I think that 90 percent [of the debt] will be cleared before the New Year,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

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