The European Union announced on Friday September 15 its decision to end the ban put in place by five states on the import of Ukrainian cereals. In return, Ukraine promised to control the flow of grain. This, at the risk of triggering hostilities on the side of Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, which intend to maintain the restrictions.
At the end of April, the European Commission concluded an agreement with five Member States (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania) allowing them to block the marketing of Ukrainian wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower on their soil in order to protect their farmers.
Following the lifting of EU customs duties in May 2022, these countries saw an influx of cut-price cereals from Ukraine, but blocked on their soil due to logistical problems instead of reaching Africa and the Middle East. Several had unilaterally banned imports, to stem the saturation of their silos and the collapse of local prices.
Restrictions that Brussels – guardian of EU trade policy – then formally authorized and then extended until September 15, provided that these countries maintain the passage of grains to other destinations.
“Thanks to these temporary measures, market distortions in these five states have disappeared”, and the improvement in logistical conditions has made it possible to increase the transport of cereals to other countries, welcomed the Commission. “As a result, the existing measures will expire today.”
kyiv, fiercely opposed to the restrictions, welcomed “compliance with free trade rules”: “This is an example of true unity and trust between Ukraine and the EU. Europe always wins when the rules work and agreements are implemented,” responded President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Anxious to give assurances to Eastern countries, the Commission specifies that in return, Kiev has undertaken to adopt within one month measures to “avoid surges” in grain volumes, for example via an export licensing system.
Until then, Ukraine will have to control exports and avoid destabilizing border countries. kyiv will have to submit an “action plan” to Brussels by Monday evening, which promises not to reimpose restrictions “as long as the measures taken are fully effective.”
Not enough to convince Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, who immediately announced that they would unilaterally maintain their ban. And this in violation of the decision taken by the Commission, which has sole jurisdiction over EU trade policy – at the risk, as in the spring, of a political and legal standoff with Brussels.
“Hungary will close its borders to 24 Ukrainian products”, many more than the four currently concerned, in order to “protect the interests of farmers”, indicated Hungarian Minister of Agriculture Istvan Nagy. The Budapest embargo now also covers “flour, cooking oil, honey, certain meats and eggs.”
And one month before elections in Poland, the populist right-wing government is making it “a fundamental question.” “We will undoubtedly defend the interests of Polish farmers,” said Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, whose Law and Justice party enjoys strong support in agricultural regions.
Romania for its part “regretted” Brussels’ decision, saying it was waiting for kyiv’s action plan before implementing possible measures.
Unlike its neighbors, Bulgaria announced on Thursday that it was lifting the embargo, in the name of “solidarity with Ukraine”. In the event of a violation of EU law, kyiv threatens to refer the matter to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to demand compensation.
Part of the Twenty-Seven, led by France and Germany, were fiercely opposed from the outset to these restrictions, denouncing distortions of the single market. At the same time, the Europeans are trying to strengthen in all directions the routes for transporting Ukrainian grain to the rest of the world after the end of the agreement with Russia in mid-July to allow transit via the Black Sea.
The EU has developed “solidarity” land and river corridors, through Poland and Romania, which have transported 44.4 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain since the start of the war, or 60% of the Ukrainian production, in order to supply consuming countries, particularly in Africa.