29th Sep 2023

EU farm chief backs extending Ukraine grain ban and subsidies

  • The Polish commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski told MEPs he was lobbying the commission to provide subsidies for Ukrainian grain exporters (Photo: European Parliament)
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EU agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski on Thursday (31 August) backed extending the temporary ban on Ukrainian grain imports in five frontline countries until the end of 2023 — and proposed providing subsidies for Ukrainian grain exporters.

The ban, which is currently enforced in Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia, is due to expire on 15 September.

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Under these restrictive measures, Ukrainian agri-food products have continued to move through these countries to other parts of the world where grain is needed.

But the potential course of action in the aftermath has triggered a storm of controversy.

Speaking to a group of MEPs from the parliament's agriculture committee, Wojciechowski also said the EU should consider subsidising the cost of the transit of Ukrainian grain to seaports such as the Baltics. This proposal, he said, has the support of the five frontline countries and Ukraine.

"This is not the commission proposal but I hope it will be," he also said, warning that opening the markets again will trigger a "huge crisis" in the five frontline member states.

When asked for a reaction, the EU commission confirmed that there is no such proposal currently on the table.

The EU executive said it is currently working on increasing the capacity of the so-called EU solidarity lanes and addressing the bottlenecks that have occurred in frontline countries due to a surge in grain exports from Ukraine.

Ukraine's grain has been confined in silos since Russia decided in mid-July to cease its participation in the Black Sea Initiative, brokered by the UN and Turkey last year. 

Legal action threats

But if no solution is found ahead of 15 September, there is a possibility that countries such as Poland may put forward unilateral import bans — similar to what happened in April.

Back in early July, Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki warned that if the commission did not agree to it, Warsaw would extend the ban unilaterally. But whether Morawiecki will take the same path this time remains uncertain.

"Talks are still ongoing but we are really counting on the positive outcome of these discussions," said an EU source.

The next meeting of the Joint Coordination Platform, which gathers representatives from the EU commission, Ukraine and the five frontline countries, is expected to meet again next Tuesday (5 September).

Ukraine's foreign affairs minister, for his part, has argued that a unilateral extension of the ban would violate the rules of the common market and the association agreement between Ukraine and the EU.

If member states unilaterally extend the import ban, chief diplomatic adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy Ihor Zhovkva said he expects the EU commission to take legal action against such member states.

Otherwise, he said Kyiv could take legal action against the EU. "Ukraine will not be a hostage to any foreign election campaign," he said.

Poland is currently in the middle of a key election campaign, set for October 15, where the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is trying to win a third consecutive term.

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