The European Commission is working on a new proposal that could allow eastern member states such as Poland and Hungary to impose restrictions on Ukrainian grain in case of “chaos” in the markets.
“We need to take into account the views of agricultural sector representatives, especially in the neighboring (to Ukraine) countries that are most affected. We are therefore considering how best to do this, namely whether safeguards can be introduced not only in case of disruptions in the whole EU common market, but also in just one member state or several member states,” Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commission’s executive Vice-President in charge of trade, said on Tuesday morning.
“We know that Ukrainian agricultural food exports affect the EU very unevenly, it depends on the region, and the neighboring countries are primarily affected. So we are also considering how to protect the most ‘sensitive’ products.”
Such statements by the Vice-President, which echo an interview he had given earlier to the Financial Times newspaper, were a kind of reversal by Brussels. For most of 2023, the EU executive vigorously condemned the unilateral bans imposed by Poland and Hungary on Ukrainian grain.
As part of wide-ranging measures taken after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the bloc decided to slap duties on Ukrainian imports, including agricultural products, in an attempt to support the war-torn country’s battered economy.
Ukraine, one of the world’s largest exporters of sunflower oil, barley, corn and wheat, urgently needed an alternative route for its goods after Russian forces blockaded the Black Sea. EU trade concessions were supposed to encourage transport along overland routes and free up space for the subsequent harvest.
Still, the sudden appearance of duty-free Ukrainian grain flooded the markets of neighboring countries such as Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. Local farmers, who found cheap Ukrainian imports unfair competition, went on protests. In response, governments imposed unilateral, uncoordinated bans, which the Commission considered illegal, unfair and contrary to the principle of solidarity.
As a temporary solution, the executive branch allowed the transit of four specific Ukrainian products - wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower - through five eastern countries, but without allowing them to be placed on their markets for domestic consumption or storage.