EU countries support renewal of tariff-free system for Ukrainian wheat, despite ongoing bans

Adriana Lima
By Adriana Lima 4 Min Read
origin 1Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria complain about the distorting effects of an excess supply of Ukrainian wheat. ©Andrew Kravchenko/Copyright 2023 AP. All rights reserved

European Union countries on Friday took the first step towards extending for another year the current suspension of tariffs and duties on Ukrainian grain entering the domestic market.

The suspension, which applies to a wide range of agricultural products, is intended to help Kiev shore up its battered economy and allow for ways to get its grains to developing countries, an effort that has been severely complicated by the Russia’s tight control of the Black Sea route.

The legal text will now be sent to the European Parliament and then return to member states for final approval, which is expected to take place before the current regime expires on 5 June.

“We welcome this first approval, but it’s not the end of the process,” a European Commission spokesman said in reaction to Friday’s decision.

The positive decision made by the ambassadors contrasts with far-reaching bans Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria have imposed on Ukrainian wheat and other food products, a controversy that made international headlines and questioned the bloc’s solidarity with the war-torn nation.

The four Eastern European countries, together with Romania, they complained for weeks the oversupply of duty-free Ukrainian grain was filling warehouses, driving down prices for local farmers and fostering unfair competition.

Complaints rose dramatically two weeks ago when Poland and Hungary announced unilateral bans on a number of Ukrainian agricultural products, including wheat and corn. Slovakia and Bulgaria quickly followed suit with their own bans, while Romania publicly mobilized to take a similar step.

The move took Brussels by surprise and forced the European Commission to do so issue a public rebukereminding Member States that commercial policy was the exclusive competence of the executive.

Since then, the Commission has been involved in behind-the-scenes talks with the Eastern European group with a view to finding a joint negotiated solution.

Talks are still ongoing and a breakthrough has yet to emerge.

Brussels he proposed a series of “exceptional” measures that would allow the transit of four Ukrainian products – wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower seeds – through the five countries but without being purchased for internal consumption or stored in their territories.

In practice, this would amount to legalizing the bans under the guise of an EU-wide framework.

The Commission has also presented a €100 million package to support affected farmers, but its outlay is considered contingent on the lifting of unilateral bans.

The five Eastern European countries are asking the executive to further expand the list of Ukrainian products that will fall under the transit-only regime, to possibly include eggs, dairy products, meat and similar agricultural products.

The Commission insists that any additional list will have to be based on data demonstrating a negative impact on local farmers.

Despite persistent bans, no country objected to Friday’s decision during discussions among ambassadors, several diplomats told RockedBuzz via Euronews.

The regulation, however, still has to go through the legislative cycle of the European Parliament and then back to the Council of the EU, which means that there could be a blockage in the future.

However, the five Eastern European countries do not hold enough votes to form a so-called blocking minority and would need to bring in more allies.

The proposed extension will run until 5 June 2024.

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