MOSCOW (AP) — Russia could lift its ban on grain exports later this year when final harvest figures come in, President Dmitry Medvedev was quoted as saying on Tuesday.
Medvedev's statement carried by Russian newswires contrasted with statements by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has said earlier that the government might extend the ban until the next harvest to ensure the stability of the domestic market.
Russia was the world's third largest exporter of wheat last year, but this year's crop was badly damaged during the hottest summer on record.
Before the ban was announced in August, the Russian Grain Union said it expected wheat exports to decline to 15 million tons this year from 21.4 million tons in 2009.
Medvedev described the ban as "a tough, but necessary decision" and said that it must not be the only means to deal with the aftermath of the drought.
"This measure could be scrapped after the harvest is calculated and we see how much we have at our disposal," he said, quoted by RIA Novosti.
Some 54 million tons of grain have been harvested in Russia so far, said Agriculture Minister Yelena Skrynnik told Medvedev, and the government expects a further 10 million to come from Siberia and the Urals, where the harvesting would last until November. This will leave Russia with 90 million tons, which includes 26 tons left over from the last year.
With annual needs of 77 million tons, Russia will have ample reserves, Skrynnik said.
Russia announced a ban on grain exports in August, giving a boost to global wheat prices.
Russian grain exporters lambasted the ban, insisting that Russia had enough grain in reserves left from last year's harvest to meet both domestic and overseas demand.
After years of stagnation, Russian agriculture has been on the upswing as firms and foreign investment funds have started to buy up land and upgrade production.