Farmers pressure Southeast Europe governments to ban Ukraine grain imports

Farmers pressure Southeast Europe governments to ban Ukraine grain imports
Farmers from Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are lobbying their governments to suspend imports of grain and other food products from Ukraine.
By bne IntelliNews April 19, 2023

Farmers from Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are lobbying their governments to suspend imports of grain and other food products from Ukraine. 

Governments in the region have not yet imposed restrictions on tariff-free grain imports from Ukraine, after Central European states such as Poland, Hungary and Slovakia already announced such steps. However, they face pressure to do so as Ukrainian imports have pushed down prices and local farmers are now struggling to sell their products. 

Romania’s PSD calls for halt to imports

Romania’s senior ruling party, the Social Democratic Party (PSD), will ask the government headed by PM Nicolae Ciuca to suspend imports of cereals and food products from Ukraine, arguing that such a measure is necessary to protect Romanian farmers.

Romania's government officials are supposed to talk with Ukraine about the issue on April 19.

The Social Democrats underlined that Romania must continue to support Ukraine by facilitating the transit of these products to other countries.

“The PSD argues that Eastern European states that have been affected by exports from Ukraine must have a joint negotiation with representatives of the European Commission and with Ukraine so that the support measures for Ukraine's agriculture do not affect the interests of farmers in neighbouring states,” a PSD statement reads. 

The Romanian government fears that if it bans tariff-free imports of grains and other food products from Ukraine, it could face another infringement from the European Commission (EC).

The EC already said such steps taken independently by member countries are “not acceptable.”

Such steps should be legal and “not driven by petty political motivations”, Romanian Minister of Agriculture Petre Daea told Digi24.

Bulgarian farmers protest

Bulgaria is also considering imposing a ban on imports of grain and some foods from Ukraine, caretaker Agriculture Minister Yavor Gechev said on April 16.

The move comes after a series of protests by grain producers against customs-free grain imports from Ukraine.

“Bulgaria’s interests must be preserved. When two of the [EU member] states react in this way, if we do not react similarly, the excess [grain] on Bulgarian territory can become even bigger,” Gechev said as quoted by Dnevnik news outlet.

He added he is expecting reports on the legal grounds used by Poland and Hungary to ban the imports from Ukraine, and after that he will hold talks with caretaker Economy Minister Nikola Stoyanov who could impose the ban.

Gechev added that the ban was a “matter of time” but gave no further details.

Croatian PM says market not endangered

In Croatia, farmers’ representatives and the government have publicly disagreed about the impact of Ukrainian imports. 

Farmers complain they are in a dire situation as grain prices plummet to record lows due to excessive imports, primarily from Ukraine. 

The Croatian Chamber of Agriculture (HPK) Crop Farming Committee head Petar Pranjic said that current grain prices are untenable, with the actual price of wheat being between €280 and €300. They want Brussels to shield the Croatian market and reimburse farmers for the losses incurred.

After a meeting with HPK members, Agriculture Minister Marija Vuckovic promised to suggest the adoption of emergency measures at the EU level.

However, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic argued that the Croatian market is currently not endangered by the import of grains from Ukraine. He explained that the aid extended to Ukraine to export its grain was to support African countries threatened by famine due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has disrupted supply chains, not to jeopardise EU agricultural producers.

Bans imposed in CEE

Poland and Hungary over the April 15-16 weekend and Slovakia on April 17 disregarded Brussels’ comments and to protect their farmers they already suspended the waiver on custom restrictions previously decided by the European Union for grain and other food products from Ukraine.

The governments in all these countries face massive protests from farmers, who can’t sell or export their crops at decent prices. They also point out that grain from Ukraine doesn’t meet, for instance, the EU’s tight requirements for the use of pesticides that push up the cost in member states.

The waiver on the custom restrictions and tariffs, aimed to help Ukraine send its crops to its traditional customers resulted in a grain glut in the neighbouring markets of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria where farmers are struggling to sell or export their own crops.  

The five countries and the Czech Republic met last week to prepare a coordinated position on this matter. The six countries also sent to the European Commission a request for measures aimed at protecting internal (meaning EU) markets.

“We proposed a set of measures aimed at significantly reducing the imbalances created in the market by the massive imports of Ukrainian cereals," Romanian PM Ciuca stated.