Dutch flower exports to Russia blooming, despite moral questions

Composite image showing Leopard 2 main battle tank in field of tulips in Netherlands
Composite image showing Leopard 2 main battle tank in field of tulips in Netherlands Copyright Euronews Graphistes
By Johan Bodinier
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It's a business worth €9.4 million to EU producers last year, with the majority of exports to Russia coming from the Netherlands.

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Katya's Moscow flower business is blooming. 

Since there's no sanctions on exporting cut flowers from the EU to Russia, her team of drivers is busy delivering bouquets around the Russian capital. In fact, business is so good, she's about to fly off for another holiday in Dubai.   

Exporting cut flowers to Russia was a business worth €9.4 million to EU producers last year according to the latest official statistics, with the majority of those flowers coming from the Netherlands.  

Katya buys her flowers from a wholesaler, and tells Euronews about 30% of her fresh cut flowers these days come from the Netherlands, famed for its vast fields of springtime tulips, and while that's still a lot of blooms, it's less than it used to be, pre-war. 

Dutch flowers have become more expensive, she says, while flowers from Kenya, Ecuador and Colombia are a bit cheaper to buy. 

More expensive, but not inaccessible. 

Major Dutch flower exporters - none of whom agreed to speak on the record to Euronews for this article - are facing the same sort of dilemma that other European businesses are facing: whether to continue exporting their goods to Russia, even if they're not sanctioned, just because it's outwith the spirit of the EU's sanctions regime. 

Earlier in April, The Absolut Company decided to stop exports of its Absolut vodka to Russia, with immediate effect, after a social media backlash in Sweden particularly -- even though food and drinks exports are not impacted by sanctions. 

The Netherlands represents, worldwide, roughly 60% of the global flower trade. In Europe, Dutch exports represent more than 80% of all EU flower exports.

EU top-5 flower export for 2022 towards other countries

A significant windfall for flower exporters

In the first three quarters of 2022, the value of total flower exports amounted to a record €3.4 billion in the Netherlands.

On 8 April 2022, the European Union published its ‘Restrictive measures given Russia’s actions destabilising the situation in Ukraine’, prohibiting EU member states from exporting flower bulbs and nursery stock products to Russia.

Russians may be able to make money out of the plants or shrubs, with the added value possibility of growing them, whereas with cut flowers, there's a limited lifespan which is why they're not sanctioned.

Although trade has been made difficult due to numerous rounds of EU sanctions, the Russian flower industry is still going strong.  

The Azalia group, a fresh-cut flower wholesaler in Moscow, confirmed to Euronews that they import flowers from the Netherlands, and their website says they receive flower deliveries twice each week. 

AFP
FILE: A man carries bouquets of flowers as he leaves a flower shop in Moscow on March 8, 2019AFP

 "Every euro spent on flowers can no longer go to tanks"

Although the Dutch flower exports to Russia are not exactly hidden, growers are not going out of their way to court publicity over the trade. 

While they're making money from Russia, the Dutch government is spending its own cash on buying Leopard 2 main battle tanks for Ukrainian forces. 

Last week, Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren announced, jointly with his Danish counterpart, the intention to "jointly acquire, refurbish and donate 14 Leopard 2A4 tanks for Ukraine".  

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The tanks, which Kyiv has repeatedly asked for since the war broke out -- will be bought at a cost of €165 million, and are expected to be delivered from “early 2024.”

Dutch online news outlet NU.nl reports that one flower grower, who wants to remain anonymous, stated that "there will still be Russians who want flowers [...]. Every euro spent on flowers can no longer go to [Russian] tanks".

Euronews contacted the Association of Wholesalers of Floriculture Products (VGB) and the Dutch Minister of Economics for comments.

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