– It’s Probably Not A Total Surprise – E24

The Belarusian opposition asked Yara to break with Belaruskali. Sanctions against the country now mean the Norwegian fertilizer giant will halt purchases of potassium.

STOP BUYING POTASSIUM: CEO Svein Tore Holsether at Yara.
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Yara announced on Monday that potassium purchases would be halted by April, a move CEO Svein Tore Holsether called “difficult” when speaking to him on Monday on E24.

The Belarusian opposition has repeatedly asked Yara to break off cooperation with the Belarusian potassium supplier.

– To what extent did this influence the decision?

– This is an incredibly complex question. There are many dilemmas associated with our purchase of potassium in Belarus. We have always used our purchasing power to have a positive impact. This has intensified a lot since August 2020, Yara boss Svein Tore Holsether tells E24.

– The subject was topical every day, also for me. We had a very close dialogue with many “stakeholders” here, including the independent trade union movement in Belarus, he says.

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Yara stops buying potassium from Belarus

– What is Belaruskali’s reaction?

– The dialogue was close all along, but they also see what is happening around them. And what effect the sanctions have on their entire value chain. The fact that we are communicating this today probably does not surprise them entirely, although they are certainly disappointed.

Norway and other European countries joined forces in December on new sanctions against Belarus, according to the Foreign Ministry. At the same time, the United States and Canada also imposed sanctions on the country.

Points to increased pressure on Yara

Holsether says Yara has also had contact with LO in Norway, the international trade union movement, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaja.

Just last week, Tikhanovskaya came out and asked Yara to break up with Belaruskali.

On Monday, she discusses Yara news as follows:

Tikhanovskaya is leading the resistance against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko from his exile in neighboring Lithuania. In August she was in Oslo where she met Yara boss Svein Tore Holsether.

He then said the company would make a decision on Yara’s operations in Belarus by December.

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya traveled to Norway in August last year for political talks with then Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide (H) on the situation in Belarus.

Secretary General Geir Hønneland of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee says in a statement that Yara’s decision is “understandable”. He underlined “the deterioration of the human rights situation” in Belarus and “increased pressure on society”.

“Norwegian Yara was pressured to stop buying potassium from state-owned Belaruskali. At the same time, Yara has focused on workers’ rights and worked closely with independent unions to improve workers’ safety and rights,” the committee wrote.

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Turn up the pressure: Exile leader asks Yara to break with Belarus

– We saw that we had a positive impact. We were able to help improve the working conditions of Belaruskali employees. I don’t think there are many state-owned companies in Belarus that have issued press releases saying they are taking back striking workers, says Holsether.

In December 2020, Yara asked the Belarusian company not to punish workers who went on strike.

– Increasingly hard

According to Holsether, it was the indirect effects of the sanctions against Belarus that led to Yara’s decision to stop potassium purchases from Belaruskali.

He says it’s first and foremost product logistics that has become more problematic lately, but he won’t go into detail about which players.

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EU imposes new sanctions on Belarus

– We now see that it is becoming more and more difficult to continue to buy. We depend on an entire value chain from the manufacture of the product to its arrival in our factories. With the sanctions, it becomes more and more difficult, explains the boss of Yara.

– We found it right to communicate that we cannot continue. I apologize for that, because I know we have a positive influence. It won’t be the same when we don’t buy products there, he says.

– I think it’s a difficult decision. Especially with regard to the independent trade union movement in Belarus, with which we have had and have a very close dialogue. They were clear about the importance of continuing our presence, he said.

Can buy from others

According to Holsether, Yara is the largest industrial buyer of potassium in the world.

– It means we are a big buyer that more people want to ship to.

He says that 70% of the world’s potassium production is in Canada, Belarus and Russia.

– Then there are also other sources. But we have a large portfolio. We have good conditions to be able to manage such a situation.

Alec Dittman

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