Renewed tensions in Europe over Ukrainian grain imports

11:13 20.09.2023 •

A decision by the European Commission to end an import ban on Ukrainian grain in five member states has led to tensions, unilateral embargoes and discontent among farmers.

Ukraine's pledge to put in place measures to control the export of wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seed to avoid upsetting markets has failed to pacify several of its EU neighbours.

In May 2022, the EU dropped duties in the wake of the Russian invasion to help Kyiv maintain vital revenues.

Faced with a slump in prices on local markets and angry European farmers, Brussels in spring agreed to allow five countries to restrict imports of grain from Ukraine through September.

The measures allowed the products to keep transiting through Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, but stopped them from being sold on the local market. But the agreement expired and the European Commission refrained from renewing it, citing the disappearance of "market distortions" and improved transport conditions.

Substantial financial losses due to the glut of Ukrainian grain were particularly felt by the members of the bloc that share a border with Ukraine. However, several other nations have joined in demanding action from the EC over Ukrainian exports. The measures adopted by Brussels allowed Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Bulgaria to stop importing Ukrainian agricultural produce.

Before the EC decision was announced, Poland and Hungary had warned that they would act alone to keep cheap Ukrainian grain out. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that Warsaw would unilaterally block the import of agricultural produce from Ukraine, starting September 16.

Hungary, in turn, imposed an import ban on 24 Ukrainian products such as grain, rapeseed and sunflower seeds, as well as certain meat products, honey and eggs. Prime Minister Viktor Orban accused Brussels of “turning a blind eye” to the problems of European farmers, adding that Ukrainian crops “destined for Africa are flooding Central European markets.”

Meanwhile, the government of Slovakia decided to ban imports of Ukrainian wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower seeds. The country’s Prime Minister Ľudovit Odor said that Bratislava was forced to “prevent excessive pressure on the Slovak market” to remain fair to local farmers.

Contrary to its neighbours, Bulgaria decided to end the import ban, citing "solidarity with Ukraine."

The largest quantities of Ukrainian grain exports pass through Romania. Its Black Sea port of Constanta – the largest for cereals in Europe – receives grain from trucks, trains and barges after a journey along the Danube bordering Ukraine to load them onto ships. The Romanian government aims to have 60 percent of Ukraine's total cereal exports transit through its territory in the long term.

Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu announced the amount of Ukrainian grain passing through the country has been increased to 2.5 million tonnes per month, as it aims to expand it to four million tonnes.

In an effort to disrupt shipping lanes on the Danube river, Moscow has ramped up attacks on the Ukrainian river ports of Izmail and Reni.


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