EU warns against unilateral action after Poland, Hungary ban Ukrainian grain

  • Poland and Hungary ban grain and other food imports from Ukraine
  • The European Commission said the move was unacceptable.
  • Cheap Ukrainian imports have hurt local farmers
  • Ukrainian and Polish ministers to meet on Monday

WARSAW, April 16 (Reuters) – Unilateral action on trade by European Union member states is unacceptable, the bloc’s executive said on Sunday, after Poland and Hungary banned grain and other food imports from Ukraine to protect their local agricultural sectors.

After Russia’s invasion blockaded some Black Sea ports, large quantities of Ukrainian grain, cheaper than that produced in the EU, remained in central European states as logistical bottlenecks hit prices and sales for local farmers.

The issue has created a political problem for Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party in an election year, as it has angered people in rural areas where support for PiS is typically high.

“We are aware of the announcements by Poland and Hungary regarding the ban on imports of grain and other agricultural products from Ukraine,” a European Commission spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

“In this context, it is important to underline that trade policy is an exclusive competence of the EU and, therefore, unilateral measures will not be accepted.”

“In such challenging times, it is crucial to coordinate and align all decisions within the EU,” the statement added.

Polish government spokesman Piotr Mueller told state-run news agency PAP that the government was in constant contact with the European Commission and that a ban was possible because of a safeguard clause.

Poland and Hungary have been locked in long-running conflicts with Brussels over issues including judicial independence, media freedom and LGBT rights, and both have withheld funding due to concerns over the rule of law.

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Ukraine’s Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky spoke with Hungarian Foreign Minister Istvan Nagy on Sunday and underlined that unilateral decisions are unacceptable, the Ukrainian Agriculture Ministry said in a statement. Both agreed to talk again soon.

The ministry said on Saturday that the Polish ban contradicted existing bilateral agreements on exports and called for talks to resolve the issue.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria’s Agriculture Minister Yavor Kechev said the country is considering banning Ukrainian grain imports, local agency BTA reported on Sunday.

Transportation

The Polish ban, which came into effect on Saturday evening, will also apply to the transport of these products across the country, the Minister of Development and Technology said on Sunday.

“The embargo is complete, including the ban on transit through Poland,” Waldemar Buda wrote on Twitter, adding that talks would be held with Ukraine to create a system that would ensure goods only pass through Poland and do not end up on the local market.

Ukrainian and Polish ministers are due to meet in Poland on Monday and the transport arrangement will be at the center of the talks, state-run Ukrinform news agency reported.

Poland’s Agriculture Minister Robert Delus was quoted on Sunday as saying, “This ban is necessary to open the EU’s eyes to allow products from Ukraine to enter Europe and not stay in Poland.”

The ban will remain in place till June 30, the finance ministry said.

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Ukraine normally exports most of its agricultural products, particularly grain, through its Black Sea ports in July, in accordance with an agreement between Ukraine, Turkey, Russia and the United Nations.

That deal expires on May 18 and Moscow indicated last week that it would not be extended unless the West lifted sanctions on Russian grain and fertilizer exports.

According to the Ukrainian ministry, about 3 million tons of grain leave Ukraine every month through the Black Sea grain route.

Between 500,000 and 700,000 tons of various agricultural products cross the Polish border every month, including grain, vegetable oil, sugar, eggs, meat and other products, Zolski said over the weekend.

Alan Charlish reports; Editing by Sharon Singleton

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