European Commission, five EU members agree to permit members to ban domestic sale of some Ukrainian agricultural products

Thursday, May 4, 2023

A tractor tilling a field in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, Ukraine, 2018.
Image: Vitalii Bashkatov.

On Friday, the European Commission (EC) reached a deal with European Union (EU) member states Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia on imports of wheat, maize, rapeseed, and sunflower seeds from Ukraine.

The agreement provided for 100 million euros to compensate farmers and allowed the five nations to prevent the Ukrainian products from entering their domestic markets. The five, in turn, agreed to allow free transit of the goods through their countries. Additionally, the EU extended June's one-year removal of duties on Ukrainian products for another year on Friday, pending approval by the European Parliament and members.

Valdis Dombrovskis, the bloc's top trade official, announced the deal: "I'm glad to announce that we have reached a political agreement concerning Ukrainian agrifood imports in the EU. We've agreed with the five neighboring EU member states and Ukraine on how we'll tackle the situation."

EC President Ursula von der Leyen said the deal "preserves both Ukraine's exports capacity so it continues feeding the world, and our farmers' livelihoods."

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said: "We have just now finalized agreements with the European Union regarding the ban on the import of these agricultural products, which above all led to destabilization in the Polish market."

Cheaper products caused an excess of supply in these countries' domestic markets after the EU lifted those tariffs amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, stating it would enable the products to reach their target markets in the Middle East and Africa while Black Sea ports remained contested.

Logistical costs hindered re-exports of Ukrainian goods, driving down local prices and prompting farmer protests. On April 4, the EC adopted an "emergency support measure" providing over 56 million euros to Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria to help farmers but acknowledged this only partially covered losses.

Bulgaria is in solidarity with Ukraine, but a local glut is being created on the agricultural market, because instead of export corridors our countries are becoming warehouses.

—Yavor Gechev, Minister of Agriculture, Bulgaria

This did not assuage the farmers, and Poland announced a ban on imports from Ukraine on April 15, followed by Hungary the same day, then Slovakia on April 17 and Bulgaria on April 19, with an exception for products en route to other nations through Bulgaria. Romania did not enact restrictions, but appealed to the EU for "preventative measures" on products from Ukraine.

"Bulgaria is in solidarity with Ukraine, but a local glut is being created on the agricultural market, because instead of export corridors our countries are becoming warehouses," Bulgaria's Minister of Agriculture, Yavor Gechev, said before his nation imposed its ban.

Citing its single market nature, members — and the EU itself — condemned the bans. Arianna Podestà of the EC declared to CNN: "It is important to underline that trade policy is of EU exclusive competence and, therefore, unilateral actions are not acceptable."

"The flow of Ukrainian agro-export is a matter of survival for the Ukrainian economy, heavily impacted by the full-scale Russian war of aggression," Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna said prior to the deal. "So, our common priority should be an extension of the suspension of import duties, quotas, and trade defense measures on Ukrainian exports to the European Union."