EU struggles with Ukrainian grain dispute

21 September 2023

Ukraine to take legal action as Hungary, Poland, Slovakia impose unilateral trade bans 

By Jenny Brunton, Senior European Policy Advisor

EU ends trade ban of Ukrainian grain into neighboring countries

On Friday 15 September, the European Commission announced that it will not extend a ban on Ukrainian grain imports. Imports of Ukrainian grain, including wheat and maize, were banned from Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria under an agreement reached with the Commission earlier this year where only transit to other destinations was allowed. 

The Commission has said that it will refrain from imposing restrictions as long as effective measures by Ukraine are in place and fully functioning. Ukraine has agreed to put measures in place to control the export of wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seeds to neighbouring EU countries and will introduce proposals, for example, an export licensing system, within 30 days to avoid grain surges. 

Hungary, Poland and Slovakia impose unilateral trade bans

In response, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia have imposed their own bans on Ukrainian grain following the Commission’s decision. Hungary banned the import of 24 Ukrainian products such as grains, rapeseed, sunflower seeds, certain meat products, honey and eggs. Poland moved to exclude Ukrainian agricultural imports indefinitely and to expand the list of banned products, while Slovakia maintained the previous ban of grains. Several EU member states, including Spain which currently holds the Presidency of the Council, have criticised their actions. Spanish Agriculture Minister Luis Planas said “Any country that takes unilateral action, restricting access to the single market, seems to me out of the EU law.”

Ukraine launches legal action against Hungary, Poland and Slovakia at WTO

On Monday 18 September, Ukraine filed lawsuits against Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to the World Trade Organisation over their unilateral bans on Ukrainian agricultural goods. After announcing the lawsuit, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal also suggested a “compromise scenario”, which would involve an action plan to control the export to five neighbouring countries. The legal action also puts the Commission in a difficult position as it is responsible for trade policy across all 27 Member States, meaning it is required to represent the member countries at the WTO, even when it opposes the measures taken.

Ukrainian Deputy Trade Minister Taras Kachka announced on 19 September that Kyiv plans to block Polish onions, tomatoes, cabbage and apples in response to Poland’s ban. 

Poland stops military aid to Ukraine amid grain dispute

Amid the dispute, Poland has said they will no longer send military aid to Ukraine in response to comments made at the UN by Ukrainian President Zelensky who said it was alarming how some of Ukraine's friends in Europe were playing out solidarity "in a political theatre - making a thriller from grain".

Ukraine reaches agreement with Slovakia to resolve grain dispute

On 21 September, Ukraine agreed to withdraw its lawsuit against Slovakia, after the two countries said a grain licence system would be set up in the coming months. Poland has so far said the ban will stay in place, and a "complaint before the WTO doesn't impress us".

Poland and Ukraine ready to hold talks over grain dispute
On 21 September, Poland and Ukraine said they are ready to start negotiations “in the coming days” to resolve their dispute over imports of Ukrainian grain. Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskyi said on Thursday he and his Polish counterpart had agreed to “find a solution that takes into account the interests of both countries” after a phone conversation.



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