| 21 September 2023, Thursday |

Poland, Hungary, Slovakia to continue unilateral ban on Ukraine grains

Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary announced their own limits on Ukrainian grain imports on Friday, after the European Commission’s decision not to extend an embargo affecting Ukraine’s five EU neighbors.

The European Union introduced restrictions in May, allowing Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia to prohibit domestic sales of Ukrainian wheat, maize, rapeseed, and sunflower seeds but allowing transit of such cargoes for export elsewhere.

“We will extend this ban despite their and the European Commission’s disagreement,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said during a rally in the northeastern town of Elk. “We will do it because it is in the best interests of the Polish farmer.”

Hungary has banned the import of 24 Ukrainian agricultural items, including cereals, vegetables, and various meats.

Slovakia’s agriculture minister followed suit announcing its own grain ban. All three bans only apply to domestic imports and do not affect transit to onward markets.

EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said on Friday countries should refrain from unilateral measures against imports of Ukrainian grain. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said it would respond in a “civilized fashion” if EU members break the rules.

The EU created alternative land routes, so-called Solidarity Lanes, for Ukraine to use to exports its grains and oilseeds after Russia, which invaded in 2022, backed out of a U.N.-brokered Black Sea grain deal in July that allowed safe passage for the cargo ships.

The EU Commission said existing measures would expire as originally planned on Friday after Ukraine agreed to introduce any legal measures (including, for example, an export licensing system) within 30 days to avoid grain surges.

“It has concluded that thanks to the work of the Coordination Platform and to the temporary measures introduced on 2 May 2023, the market distortions in the 5 Member States bordering Ukraine have disappeared,” the European Commission said in a statement.

The EU said it will refrain from imposing any restrictions as long as the effective measures by Ukraine are in place and fully working.

Farmers in the five countries neighbouring Ukraine have repeatedly complained about a product glut hitting their domestic prices and pushing them towards bankruptcy.

The countries, except Bulgaria, had been pushing for an extension of the ban passed its Sept. 15 expiry.

Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania previously said they may extend the restrictions unilaterally while Bulgaria on Thursday voted to scrap the curbs. Romania sees over 60% of the alternate flows pass through its territory mainly via the Danube river delta and its farmers have threatened to strike if the ban is not extended.

For the last year, Ukraine had been moving 60% of its exports through the Solidarity Lanes and 40% via the Black Sea thanks to the deal.

In August, about 4 million tonnes of Ukraine grains passed through the Solidarity Lanes of which close to 2.7 million tonnes were through the Danube. The Commission wants to increase exports through Romania further but the plan has been complicated by Russian drone attacks on Ukraine’s grain infrastructure along the Danube and near the Romanian border.

  • Reuters