Adobe Stock
Adobe Stock

Five eastern countries of the European Union (EU) have asked for import duties to be introduced on Ukrainian grains after claiming agricultural products from Ukraine are affecting their export markets, Reuters reported Hungary’s agricultural ministry as saying.

The farm ministers of Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia had sent a letter to the European Commission (EC) requesting action, the 15 January report said.

The five countries are among six EU member states that produce more wheat and maize than needed for domestic consumption, which was key for European food safety and strategic sovereignty, the ministers said.

“This is why Brussels needs to introduce measures that protect the markets of member states bordering Ukraine while helping them make use of their full export potential,” the letter signed by the ministers, including Hungary’s Farm Minister Istvan Nagy, said.

“One of these (measures) could be introducing import duties on the most sensitive agricultural products.”

Ukraine’s larger farm sizes made the country’s grain exports cheaper and that was pushing EU farmers out of their traditional export markets, the ministers said.

Farmers in Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia had “suffered significant damages” since the EU had suspended import quotas and customs on grain from Ukraine last year, they added.

The ministers were also calling on the EC to investigate if Ukraine’s production guidelines were in line with EU standards, the report said.

Grain exports had been a source of tension between Ukraine and its EU neighbours after Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia became alternative transit routes for Ukrainian grain to help offset slower exports via Ukraine’s Black Sea ports following the Russian invasion in 2022, Reuters wrote.

Last September, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary announced restrictions on Ukrainian grain imports after the EC decided not to extend a ban on imports into Ukraine’s five EU neighbours.

All three bans apply only to domestic imports and do not affect transit to onward markets.

Ukraine had responded by making a complaint to the World Trade Organization against the three countries, the report said.

Meanwhile, Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria had joined forces to clear mines in the Black Sea as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a bid to improve shipping safety and to protect Ukraine’s export route, World Grain reported from a Bloomberg article.

Signed on 11 January in Istanbul, the memorandum of understanding (MoU) was the first major joint action of Black Sea nations since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the 11 January report said.

Turkey had brokered a United Nations (UN)-backed agreement later that year to ensure the free passage of Ukrainian grain via the Black Sea, but Russia withdrew from the deal last July, World Grain wrote.

Since mid-September, Ukraine had transported almost 15M tonnes of cargo – mainly food products – via its alternative Black Sea corridor that runs along the coastline near Romania and Bulgaria towards Turkey, the report said.

A strengthened export route was also needed to clear a larger-than-expected harvest, with Ukrainian officials expecting a harvest of 79M tonnes of grain and oilseeds in 2023/24 with an exportable surplus of 50M tonnes, World Grain wrote.

Prior to Russia’s invasion, Ukraine made up 9% of global wheat, 15% of maize and 44% of sunflower oil exports, the report said.