Farm Progress

The governments of Hungary and Poland have blamed the EU for allegedly being slow to address the plight of farmers there.

Bloomberg, Content provider

April 17, 2023

3 Min Read
Grain getting loaded into semi trailer

By Veronika Gulyas and Piotr Bujnicki

Hungary joined Poland in announcing a halt in Ukrainian agricultural imports, saying that duty-free imports from its neighbor in the face of Russia’s invasion are putting Hungarian farmers at risk.

The European Union slammed the moves over the weekend, saying “unilateral actions” were unacceptable and a potential breach of the bloc’s trade policy. 

Ukraine’s neighbors said Saturday they would halt the imports of grain and certain other foods - in Poland’s case, some meat and dairy products, as well as eggs - because the ample supplies had depressed domestic prices and is threating the livelihood of local farmers.

The moves followed weeks of farmer protests in Poland, an important constituency for the government in Warsaw months before a parliamentary election. The ban will add to existing tensions between Brussels and the two eastern members, whom the EU accuses separately of democratic backsliding. 

“It’s important to underline that trade policy is of EU exclusive competence and, therefore, unilateral actions are not acceptable,” Miriam Garcia Ferrer, commission spokeswoman for trade and agriculture, said on Sunday. “In such challenging times, it is crucial to coordinate and align all decisions within the EU.”

Bar graph showing EU is importing vast quantities of Ukrainian Crops

The governments of Hungary and Poland have blamed the EU for allegedly being slow to address the plight of farmers there. Poland halted imports to avert a “crisis of agriculture,” Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the governing Law and Justice party, said on Saturday. The bans are temporary and will stay in place until June 30, the two governments said. 

Kyiv’s eastern neighbors had agreed that grain from the war-torn country could be transshipped through their territory after Russia blockaded Ukraine’s Black Sea ports for months following the February 2022 invasion. Exports from Ukraine’s Odesa-region ports resumed in August but remain below usual levels. 

Although the grain was supposed to be shipped on from Europe to Africa and the Middle East, logistical bottlenecks meant some supplies started to pile up in eastern Europe. 

In a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen this month, Bulgaria and four EU states adjacent to Ukraine pushed for the bloc to increase financial support to farmers, consider buying the surplus grain for humanitarian aid or even restrict imports from Ukraine. 

“If current market trends continued, that would cause serious damage to Hungarian agriculture,” Hungarian Agriculture Minister Istvan Nagy said on Saturday. Ukraine’s lower-cost agriculture is undercutting Hungarian producers of poultry, eggs, honey, grain and oilseeds, he said.

Hungary called on the European Union to reconsider “the full duty-free treatment of Ukrainian goods and the functioning of the solidarity corridors.”

The spat threatens to fray an alliance that turned the government in Warsaw into one of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters since the start of the Russian invasion, supplying weapons, humanitarian aid and accepting more than a million of refugees.

Poland “will keep on supporting Ukraine,” Kaczynski said at a rally on Saturday. “However, we have a duty to protect our citizens, farmers and avoid a crisis of our agriculture.” 

Ukraine said Poland’s move violated an agreement in response to the protests, which stipulated that wheat, corn, sunflower seed and rapeseed could be shipped to Poland as long as it was sent on to other countries by July.   

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.

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