Russia plans to discuss after October 1 whether to extend a grain export ban into next year, First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov told Reuters, after a severe drought ruined vast tracts of the country's grain crop.
The ban comes into force on Sunday and is due to last until December 31, a move designed to restrain domestic food prices because of the worst drought in more than a century -- which has also caused forest fires and left Moscow blanketed in smoke.
After October 1 we can discuss how to act after December of this year, Zubkov said in an email sent on Saturday.
Zubkov's statement follows contrasting remarks by Russia's leadership on the ban.
President Dmitry Medvedev has said the ban could be lifted earlier if the harvest permits. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said it could last into 2011, after announcing the grain crop could be as low as 60 million tonnes.
Russia harvested 97 million tonnes of grain in 2009, and it needs 78 million tonnes to cover domestic consumption.
In the emailed statement, Zubkov stressed that the government had to balance the interests of grain traders with the need to maintain stability on the domestic food market.
We understand the anxiety of our exporters, he said.
Therefore, as I have said, the ban is a temporary measure. Furthermore, we are continually monitoring and analyzing grain, feed and seed supplies on the domestic market.
Agriculture Ministry data shows that Russia may have no more grain to ship abroad from this year's crop, even if it lifts export bans from 2011.
The Agriculture Ministry has said Russia could export about 2.8 million tonnes of grain between July 1 and August 15. It exported 22 million tonnes of grain in 2009/10.
The number of fires burning across Russia on Saturday dropped to 480 from 505 on Friday, the Emergencies Ministry said, and the air in the capital was noticeably cleaner.
The situation regarding the wildfires has improved markedly at present, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu said a statement late on Friday.
A fire near a nuclear research center in Sarov, about 350 km (220 miles) east of Moscow, has also been brought under control, the head of Russia's nuclear agency told a television station.
The fires have killed more than 50 people.
Several nations, including Armenia, Bulgaria and the United States have sent firefighters and equipment to help.
(Reporting by Aleksandras Budrys and Alfred Kueppers; editing by Sue Thomas and Alison Williams)