21st Feb 2024

Tensions flare on EU states' bans of grain from Ukraine

  • During nationwide protests, Bulgarian farmers demanded an extension of the ban on imports of wheat, maize, rapeseed, and sunflower seeds from Ukraine (Photo: Jan Fidler)
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Ukraine has filed a complaint against Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia before the World Trade Organization over grain import bans — amid rising trade tensions and protests.

"It is fundamentally important for us to prove that individual member states cannot ban the import of Ukrainian goods," said Ukraine economy minister Yuliya Svyridenko on Monday (18 September) in a statement.

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"We need solidarity with them and protection of farmers' interests," she said, arguing that this is "a violation of its international obligations" by the three EU member states.

Svyridenko said grain exporters are facing "significant losses" due to time off, extra expenses, and the inability to meet international economic commitments.

"Unilateral actions of EU member states in the field of trade are unacceptable and all member states of the bloc should coordinate and agree on trade policy," she also said.

Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia decided to introduce restrictive measures unilaterally — after temporary bans expired last Friday, when, the European Commission, the five EU frontline countries, and Ukraine agreed to lift restrictive measures.

On Friday, Ukraine also committed to present an action plan to control the export of wheat, maize, rapeseed, and sunflower seeds to prevent any market distortions in the bordering countries.

The plan involves regular data sharing between the EU member states and Ukraine, tracking goods' destinations on an e-queuing system, and establishing an export licensing system with verification and authorisation for four goods categories — wheat, maize, rapeseed, and sunflower seeds.

During a meeting on Monday, the European Commission urged parties to proceed with "a constructive attitude" in a bid to build "trust".

However, it's tough to see how trust can be back after unilateral measures and legal proceedings have been introduced.

Unlike Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, Bulgaria has decided to lift the domestic ban on imports from Ukraine.

While the move was described by Ukraine prime minister Volodymyr Zelensky as "an example of true solidarity," Bulgarian farmers started nationwide protests on Monday demanding an extension of the ban on imports of wheat, maize, rapeseed, and sunflower seeds from Ukraine.

Extending the temporary bans until the end of the year was previously backed by EU agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski.

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