Ukraine plans trade complaint against three EU neighbours over grain import bans

Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia have stopped import of Ukrainian products to protect their own farmers, defying bloc’s single market rules

The Ukrainian government has said it plans to take a complaint to the World Trade Organisation against three of its European Union neighbours over their decisions to ban imports of Ukrainian agricultural products.

Over the weekend Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia imposed national bans on Ukrainian grain, including wheat and maize, to protect their farmers in defiance of single market rules. The produce can still transit through their territory to reach other markets.

This was despite an announcement by the European Commission on Friday that a deal had been reached to keep produce flowing freely from Ukraine into the single market on the grounds that all market distortions in neighbouring states had “disappeared”.

Moving Ukrainian agricultural products into the European Union through so-called “solidarity lanes” has been key to the EU’s efforts to counteract a Russian blockade on Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea and work against food shortages and price surges around the world.


However, neighbouring countries complained that the flood of cheaper imports was devastating their local farming industries, an issue that caused the first breach in solidarity between Ukraine and one of its otherwise staunchest allies, Poland.

For much of this year, a temporary deal was in place that allowed for neighbouring countries to ban the local sale of Ukrainian produce while allowing it to transit through their territory.

On Friday, the Commission announced that a deal had been reached with Kyiv to allow for restrictions to be lifted, as the Ukrainian side had agreed to take measures “to avoid grain surges”.

Hungary reacted by placing a national ban on a range of Ukrainian products varying from grains to sunflower seeds, honey, eggs, and some meat products. Poland banned imports of wheat, corn and rapeseed, while Slovakia barred wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower seeds.

The Polish government said it was acting in the interests of Polish farmers and consumers, while Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban accused the EU of “turning a blind eye to the problems of European farmers”.

The issue was prominent as agriculture ministers met in Brussels for talks.

“Any member country takes unilateral action restricting access to the single market seems to me something that is out of the law,” said Spain’s acting agriculture minister Luis Planas Puchades, who chaired the meeting as his country holds the EU presidency.

He said allowing imports into the EU was vital for the Ukrainian economy as well as for global food security, as it came at a time when Russia had withdrawn from the Black Sea agreement and bombed the port of Odessa “to stop the export of grain from Ukraine”.

Finland’s agriculture minister Sari Essayah expressed support for the work of the European Commission in trying to mediate the dispute.

“I understand that there are challenges in the neighbouring countries, but we need to tackle those challenges in a way that we are respecting the internal market rules and also the international trade rules,” she said.

“We need to see the bigger picture. The Ukrainian grain export is very important for the whole world.”

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times