Hours after the European Union lifted a temporary ban on imports of Ukrainian grain and other products to five member countries, three of them – Poland, Hungary and Slovakia – defied the bloc and declared that they would continue to ban the sale of Ukrainian grain on their borders. .
As Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, struggles to ship its grain due to the Russian invasion, the European Union has opened itself to duty-free food imports of the country, a decision which had the unintended consequence of lowering prices and harming farmers in several countries in the eastern European Union. As part of a deal meant to protect those countries, the bloc allowed some grains to transit through them but banned domestic sales.
Brussels’ decision to let the deal expire at midnight Friday has reignited a problem that threatens European Union unity in support for Ukraine. Hungarian Agriculture Minister Istvan Nagy announced an expanded ban that would include more products in a post on Facebook early Saturday morning, saying “we will protect the interests of farmers.”
Friday, PolandThe President of the Republic ordered that the ban be maintained and SlovakiaUkraine’s Ministry of Agriculture also announced the continuation of the ban, emphasizing that it did not apply to transit through the country, “thus expressing solidarity with Ukraine.”
Bulgarian lawmakers took the opposite path by agreeing on Thursday to resume imports of Ukrainian agricultural products. The Associated Press reportedclaiming the ban had reduced tax revenue.
The EU ban, which took effect in May and expired at midnight on Friday, covered exports of wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower seeds to Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
The ban was a response to concerns of these nations than a flood of cheap, duty-free food imports of Ukraine were harming their own farmers. All five had imposed tight restrictions on Ukrainian grain imports before the EU embargo took effect, frustrating officials in Brussels and Kiev.
The reaction against Ukrainian grain imports from the formerly communist countries of Eastern Europe was a rare and embarrassing note of discord on the continent following remarkable European support for Ukraine’s war effort for more than a year following the full-scale Russian invasion of February 2022.
This is the latest episode in a long list of grain problems in Ukraine, as fighting rages around Ukraine’s agricultural heartland and after a huge explosion at Kakhovka dam caused epic floods downstream and terrible drought upstream.
This summer, Russia abandoned a deal that allowed Ukraine to safely ship tens of millions of tons of grain through Black Sea ports despite fighting, sparking new concerns about a global food crisis . Since then, the Russian army has specifically targeted grain warehouses and port infrastructure around the Black Sea. Dozens of facilities were destroyed, Ukrainian officials said, by Russian assault drones.
The Danube ports have emerged as a new path for Ukrainian cereals. In recent months, they have accounted for about a third of agricultural exports, including grains, according to industry analysts. These ports also were targeted by Russia.
It was not immediately clear Saturday morning how rapidly changing Ukrainian agricultural exports to Europe would affect markets in Ukraine, Eastern Europe or beyond.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, did not address the prospect of new unilateral bans in a brief statement. statement Friday. The statement said market distortions in Ukraine’s five neighbors had “disappeared” following the temporary ban and that Ukraine was putting in place measures, including an export licensing system, to prevent further distortions.
On Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a post onformerly Twitter, which he said spoke to Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, and thanked her for “keeping her word and respecting the rules of the single market”.
Mr Zelensky also appeared to indirectly address the new bans in his evening speech Friday, saying it was “important that European unity works bilaterally – with neighbors.”
“Europe always wins when treaties work and promises are kept,” he added. “Well, if the neighbors’ decisions are not neighborly, Ukraine will respond civilly.”
Jeffrey Gettleman contributed reporting from Uman, Ukraine.