Poland under fire for banning grain imports from Ukraine

EU countries criticized Warsaw and other capitals on Tuesday for refusing to reverse unilateral grain import bans from war-torn Ukraine.

Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria imposed various restrictions on cereals and other food products more than a week ago after an oversupply in their local markets.

Several agriculture ministers criticized the unprecedented moves at a meeting in Luxembourg, saying they were not backed by solid data and violated EU trade policy.

czech deputy minister of agriculture Miroslav Skřivánek He accused countries of closing the door on a neighbor in need. “We, as Czechs, believe that bans are not a good solution,” he told a conference in Poland.

Recalling the accession of 10 mostly ex-communist countries to the EU in 2004, he added: “The old member states were not afraid to let us into their markets: now someone is coming and knocking on our door and they need help.” Ukraine applied to become a member of the EU and was granted official candidate status by member states last year, a project spearheaded by Poland.

Polish officials argue that their country’s unwavering support for its neighbor’s fight against Russian aggression is a separate matter.

“Poland is the number one country in the EU in terms of assistance to Ukraine, but this cannot be done at the expense of Polish farmers,” said Polish State Secretary for Agriculture Janusz Kowalski.

He said that “customs duties should be imposed” in particular on grain, but also on other food products that competed unfairly with Polish products.

The EU removed tariffs on Ukrainian food products and eased sanitary controls to support the country after Russia’s invasion last year. The measure expires on June 30 but is expected to be extended for another year.

The high cost of transportation and bumper global grain harvests have left many supplies trapped in Ukraine’s neighboring countries, reducing the incomes of farmers there.

In Luxembourg, Ukraine’s agriculture minister discussed the ban with European officials. Mykola Solskyi told EU agriculture ministers that the bloc’s farmers needed Ukrainian grain to feed their livestock, adding that low grain prices were the result of a bumper crop in Brazil, not Ukrainian production.

Several ministers intervened to condemn the unilateral moves, according to an EU official. “It is crucial that we do not impose too many additional burdens on Ukraine,” said an EU diplomat.

European Commissioners Valdis Dombrovskis and Janusz Wojciechowski also met with representatives of the four countries plus Romania to negotiate a solution. Romania it is also affected by excess cereals but has so far refrained from imposing the import ban.

Last week, the five countries proposed restricting imports of five grains, allowing them only transit, along with €100 million of financial support for farmers. The group wants the measures to be extended to sunflower oil, flour, sugar, meat, dairy and other products.

“Withdrawal of these measures can be considered only after market equilibrium has been restored in neighboring member states or near the border,” their joint submission to EU ministers said.

Samuel Vlcan, the Slovak agriculture minister, told reporters that the commission should buy grain together with the UN World Food Program directly from Ukraine and co-finance its transport.

“This grain must be transported to those countries that were traditional markets for Ukraine, such as Egypt and other countries in Africa and Asia,” he said. “To put additional food in a saturated [European market] it’s a problem.”

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