Poland, Hungary halt Ukraine farm importsReading Time: 3 minutes
Poland and Hungary have temporarily ceased importing Ukrainian grain and other agricultural produce, defying warnings from the EU that unilateral action would violate its trade policy.
Following Poland and Hungary, the Slovak government also announced that it would temporarily restrict the import of grain and other products from Ukraine, citing the detection of EU-prohibited pesticides.
Agricultural ministers of Romania and Bulgaria have also held discussions on how to protect their markets against cheap agricultural produce from Ukraine.
EU’s relaxation of Ukraine tariffs hurt CEE farmers
After Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, the EU scrapped customs duties and quotas on Ukrainian grain imports, rerouting some shipments from blockaded Black Sea ports via Polish and Romanian roads and railway networks.
The EU moratorium on tariffs for Ukraine ends on 30 June, although the European Commission (EC) has proposed extending it for another year.
However, cheap Ukrainian grain has undercut local producers, and the Hungarian and Polish governments now want to placate their farmers, after a grain glut has sent domestic prices crashing.
Originally the intention was that most of the grain would be reexported from the EU to the Middle East and Africa, both to help Ukraine’s economy and also to alleviate food shortages caused by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, 2022.
However, this plan did not work, as Ukrainian grain remained in countries close to Ukraine due to a shortage of lorries and trains to transport produce to nearby ports.
Farming minister of Hungary, Ukraine discuss ban
On Sunday evening Hungarian Agriculture Minister Istvan Nagy shared a post and a photograph of an online meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, bearing the caption “Extraordinary consultation with the Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky on the import restriction measures introduced by Hungary.”
According to the Polish ban regulation published at the weekend, Warsaw will also stop imports of farm products from Ukraine, including beef, pork, eggs, and dairy products. The ban also covers Ukrainian produce specifically earmarked for transit through Poland.
Agricultural workers unhappy with EU policy
Farmers in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) have complained about the level of compensation offered by Brussels and nations in Africa and elsewhere have also sought to curtail food imports.
For several weeks, farmers in Poland, Romania, and other countries in CEE have been holding protests and blockading roads to demand more compensation and to halt the arrival of Ukrainian grain.
The decision by Poland and Hungary to halt imports of Ukrainian grain sparked concerns among EU officials, who fear that this move could undermine the bloc’s trade policy and lead to retaliatory measures by Ukraine.
EC trade and agriculture commission spokeswoman Miriam Garcia Ferrer said “trade policy is of EU exclusive competence and, therefore, unilateral actions are not acceptable. In such challenging times, it is crucial to co-ordinate and align all decisions within the EU.”
With elections looming, Poland fears losing farmers
Opposition parties in Poland have seized on the grain dispute to attack the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government, which is relying on the backing of voters in farming regions to help win the national elections scheduled for the autumn.
The issue this month forced the resignation of the country’s agriculture minister, Henryk Kowalczyk, who quit while blaming the EU for not offering sufficient aid to Polish farmers.
Poland’s decision to temporarily halt some Ukrainian imports was announced by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of PiS, at a party convention in rural Gmina Lyse, central-east Poland, on Saturday.
Meanwhile Nagy said the temporary ban on imports of grain and oilseeds from Ukraine, as well as several other agricultural products into Hungary, would be in place until June 30. Nagy added Hungary and Poland were acting “in the absence of meaningful EU measures”.
Zelenskyy wants to find solution with ally Poland
During a visit to Warsaw on 5 April, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pledged to resolve the dispute that had become one of the few areas of discord between Ukraine and Poland, as the latter country has spearheaded western efforts to send Western weapons to the war-torn country.
On Saturday, Solsky said Kyiv understood the difficulties facing farmers in Poland but insisted, “it is the Ukrainian farmer who is in the most difficult situation: we ask the Polish side to take this into account”.
Ukraine promised to support its farmers and to work with the EU to resolve the dispute, but a compromise that would satisfy all parties may prove elusive.
This article was updated at 13:25 on Monday, 17 April to include Slovakia’s imposition of restrictions.