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Renewed tensions in Europe over Ukrainian grain imports

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The European Commission’s decision to end the ban on the import of Ukrainian grain in five member states has caused tensions, unilateral embargoes and discontent among farmers.

Ukraine’s commitment to put in place measures to control exports of wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower seeds to avoid disrupting markets has failed to placate several of its neighbors in the EU.

Here is the inventory:

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine closed the Black Sea shipping lanes used before the war, making the European Union a major transit route and export destination for Ukrainian grain to destination of Africa and the Middle East.

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In May 2022, the EU dropped tariffs following the Russian invasion to help kyiv maintain vital revenues.

Faced with falling prices on local markets and the anger of European farmers, Brussels agreed in the spring to authorize five countries to restrict grain imports from Ukraine until September.

The measures allowed products to continue passing through Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, but prevented their sale on the local market.

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But the agreement expired on Friday and the European Commission refrained from renewing it, citing the disappearance of “market distortions” and the improvement of transport conditions.

Hungary immediately announced that it would close its border to 24 Ukrainian products, compared to four previously.

Poland’s right-wing populist government followed suit and extended the embargo on Ukrainian grain, with the issue particularly sensitive ahead of next month’s elections.

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Slovakia announced it would ban the import of four products, including wheat, until the end of the year.

Romania has said it is ready to impose a one-month ban if it is unable to obtain the necessary guarantees from kyiv.

In response, kyiv said on Monday it had filed a lawsuit at the World Trade Organization (WTO) against its three EU neighbors over their bans.

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EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said he was “quite surprised that Ukraine has chosen this path”, given that export volumes have increased sharply in recent months despite the restrictions.

“I am still hopeful that we will be able to resolve these issues through friendly dialogue,” he said, adding that “any breakdown of unity within the EU” would not benefit Ukraine. .

Unlike its neighbors, Bulgaria decided to end the import ban, citing its “solidarity with Ukraine” and the need to “guarantee food security on a global scale.”

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This Balkan country stands out for the presence of numerous sunflower oil producers who complain of a serious shortage of seeds and high prices since the embargo was put in place.

While sunflower growers hailed the decision as a “triumph of reason”, Bulgarian grain growers expressed their anger on Monday by blocking bridges and intersections with their tractors.

Sunflower seeds and their oil are the main exports of Ukraine, which in 2020/2021 produced 31% of all the world’s sunflower oil, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

After Moscow withdrew in July from a grain deal that allowed Kiev to export around 33 million tonnes of grain across the Black Sea, the EU’s “solidarity corridors” played a role. major role.

“All cereals now go through solidarity channels, which are working better and better thanks to EU money,” explains Olia Tayeb Cherif, head of research at the Farm Foundation, a think tank, to AFP. dedicated to agricultural issues.

However, it is difficult to say exactly how much is being reshipped, the expert said.

Poland mainly transports grain by road to the Baltic Sea.

But the majority of Ukrainian grain exports pass through Romania.

Its Black Sea port of Constanta – Europe’s largest for grain – receives grain from trucks, trains and barges after a journey along the Danube bordering Ukraine to load it on ships.

In a bid to disrupt shipping lanes on the Danube, Moscow has stepped up attacks on the Ukrainian river ports of Izmail and Reni.

To avoid bottlenecks and ease traffic pressure, kyiv and Bucharest signed an agreement in August.

The Romanian government wants in the long term, 60 percent of Ukraine’s total grain exports to pass through its territory.

Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu announced on Monday that the amount of Ukrainian grain passing through the country had been increased to 2.5 million tonnes per month, with the aim of raising it to four million tonnes.

In neighboring Bulgaria, the ports of Varna and Burgas on the Black Sea represent another possible route, despite the dilapidated infrastructure of this Balkan country.

Croatia has also offered help since its port of Rijeka in northern Italy has been exporting around 100,000 tonnes of Ukrainian corn and wheat since May 2022.

While Russia continues to dominate the grain export market, heavyweight Ukraine is holding back, with an estimated production of 20.5 million tonnes for the 2023-24 season.

This figure was 33 million tonnes in 2021-22 before the Russian invasion, according to Agritel data.


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