EU drops Ukraine grain ban but neighbours impose own restrictions

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomes decision not to extend ban on grain exports

Poland, Slovakia and Hungary are imposing their own restrictions on Ukrainian products. AP
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The EU is ending a ban on Ukrainian crop imports in five member nations, three of which almost immediately announced their own unilateral restrictions.

Poland, Slovakia and Hungary will impose restrictions on Ukrainian grain imports, the three governments said on Friday, after the European Commission decided not to extend the ban for five eastern EU states.

Restrictions imposed by the EU in May allowed the five – Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia – to ban domestic sales of Ukrainian wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seeds, while allowing transit of such cargoes for export elsewhere.

The bloc is allowing the measure to expire as scheduled on Friday, it said in a news release, and added that the market distortions that made it necessary in the first place have disappeared.

The limited ban was established after several EU nations slapped restrictions on Ukrainian produce earlier in the year, as farmers complained a supply glut was lowering local prices.

Ukraine has agreed to introduce legal steps, such as an export licensing system, within 30 days to avoid grain surges, the EU said. The bloc also said it would monitor the market.

“What’s important right now is that all countries work in spirit of compromise, engage constructively and we are finding a solution,” European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said.

“Best of course will be for member states to refrain from unilateral measures and work along the lines of this agreement.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the EU's decision not to further extend the ban on Kyiv's grain exports, and said his government would react “in civilised fashion” if EU member states broke the rules.

“This is an example of true unity and trust between Ukraine and the EU,” Mr Zelenskyy wrote on the Telegram app. “Europe always wins when rules and agreements are implemented.”

Poland has pledged to extend its own ban.

“The EU’s decision is a bittersweet gift for us,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.

“I would prefer that they extended the ban, but they didn’t do it. Now we will extend it ourselves despite lack of their agreement.”

Hungary also moved quickly to reimpose and widen restrictions on Ukrainian agricultural products.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Friday signed an executive order barring Ukraine from selling 24 products including beef, corn, sunflower seed and barley. Previous restrictions applied only to four products.

The restrictions do not apply to Ukrainian products that are in transit to third countries as long as they leave Hungary within 15 days.

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.

Farmers in Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia 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.

Updated: September 15, 2023, 11:31 PM