The European Commission has slammed Poland and Hungary’s ban on Ukrainian food imports, saying member states cannot make such decisions regarding trade policy.
The leader of the ruling conservative Law and Justice party (PiS), Jarosław Kaczyński, announced over the weekend that a range of agricultural products such as grain, fruits, dairy, vegetables and poultry meat would be stopped from entering Poland from Ukraine. The decision has come as a result of the glut of grain from Ukraine and the flood of Ukrainian products onto the Polish market. In addition, Hungary and Slovakia have enacted similar measures, and there are reports that Romania and Bulgaria may also close their border to certain Ukrainian food imports.
“Bulgarian interests must be protected. Moreover, now that two countries have already acted in this way, if we do not react, the accumulations on Bulgarian territory could become even bigger,” Bulgaria’s acting Agriculture Minister Yavor Gechev said.
If Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Poland all block Ukrainian food product transit, it would effectively result in a geographical blockade in Europe, as the four countries border Ukraine.
Despite the growing crisis affecting Central and Eastern European countries, the European Commission argues that trade policy is the exclusive competence of the European Union and that “unilateral actions are unacceptable.” It also asserted that in difficult times, it was important to maintain coordination and unity in EU actions.
According to commercial television station Polsat News, the matter has already been the subject of calls between European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Ukrainian PM Denys Shmyhal.
Hungarian Minister of Agriculture István Nagy announced on Saturday that Hungary will also temporarily ban the import of grain and oilseeds from Ukraine, as well as several other agricultural products, after Poland announced its ban.
According to the ministry’s statement, the continuation of the current market trends would cause such serious damage to Hungarian agriculture that extraordinary measures must be taken to prevent them. He added that Ukrainian agriculture uses production practices no longer allowed in the European Union resulting in extremely low production costs. Ukraine was also given duty-free access to the European market, with free trade opportunities for grain and oilseeds, as well as large quantities of poultry, eggs and honey, making it impossible for Hungarian and Central European farmers to compete.
Nagy stressed that the restriction on imports into Hungary is temporary and will last until June 30, 2023, which may be enough time to take meaningful and lasting EU measures for a lasting solution.
According to the statement, the agricultural sector expects the EU to ensure fair market conditions for European agriculture. The Hungarian government will always stand by Hungarian farmers and will protect Hungarian agriculture, the minister said.
Despite several affected member states’ demands for a Union-level solution, the EU has so far done nothing to rectify the situation.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Agriculture has expressed disappointment at Poland’s decision and stated that the decision was contrary to the agreement between the two countries. The statement went on to acknowledge that Polish farmers were in a difficult situation, but that “the situation of Ukrainian farmers was the most acute of all.”
A statutory instrument banning the import of chosen products from Ukraine was introduced by the Polish minister of development and technology, Waldemar Buda. He tweeted that “in answer to questions that are arising, the ban is of a comprehensive nature including the transit of such goods through Poland.”
The transit will be a subject of discussion with Ukraine regarding tightening the system to establish “guarantees that these products will not remain in Poland.” The goods that have been banned include grain, sugar, fruits and vegetables, wines, meat, dairy products and poultry.
Last year, the Russian naval blockade of Ukrainian grain shipments caused global wheat prices to rise by 60 percent in three months. The food crisis was mainly a concern for poorer countries in Africa and Asia, so Western countries have used every means possible to get supplies out of Ukraine. However, many of those supplies have remained in Europe, leading to drastic reductions in wheat prices.
Countries neighboring Ukraine set up solidarity corridors to transport grain to EU ports by boosting rail transport capacity. At the same time, the European Union abolished import tariffs against Kyiv so that the crops were freely flooding into Europe at depressed prices.
Ukraine’s imports of grain to the EU were 287,000 tons in 2021, rising to nearly 2.9 million tons in 2022.