Poland bans import of Ukrainian grain after EU-wide embargo expires

Poland bans import of Ukrainian grain after EU-wide embargo expires
Polish farmers are an important voter cohort in Poland. / bne IntelliNews
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw September 18, 2023

Poland unilaterally banned imports of four types of Ukrainian grain from September 16, the government said in an expected reaction to the end of an EU-wide embargo the day before.

The Polish ban goes against EU trade rules and is also going to test Warsaw’s relations with Ukraine, which has long vowed to pursue legal action at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) if any EU member states institute their own embargoes.

Slovakia and Hungary also followed the Polish move, placing their own restrictions during the weekend. Bulgaria's parliament voted on Thursday to respect the end of the ban, while Romania said it would wait for Ukraine to present its plan before deciding how to protect Romanian farmers, reported Euractiv

“We will extend the ban, despite the lack of approval from the European Commission,” Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said. “We will do it because it is in the interest of the Polish farmer,” Morawiecki added.

The Polish ban was also extended to include meal (coarse flour) from corn, wheat, and rapeseed, Agriculture Minister Robert Telus said.

The Polish government’s decision comes in the context of a particularly bitter campaign ahead of a general election, due on October 15, where the Law and Justice (PiS) government is fighting to win a third straight term in power. 

The EU allowed Ukrainian grain imports as part of its  response to Russia's blocking Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea, Kyiv's main trade route for its agricultural produce. But imports of Ukrainian grain into the Polish market have pushed down grain prices, hurting Polish farmers,  an important voter cohort in Poland. For PiS, losing rural communities will most likely mean a lost election. 

Poland says Ukrainian produce will still be allowed to transit its territory to be exported to markets in Africa or the Middle East, Ukraine’s traditional grain export markets. 

The Commission first adopted the restrictions in May after Poland and Hungary closed their borders to Ukrainian imports in reaction to farmer protests. A temporary EU embargo followed. The Polish ban follows unsuccessful attempts by Warsaw to have the EU extend the bloc-wide ban until the end of the year.

In Slovakia, Prime Minister Ludovit Odor Odor signalled last week that Slovakia prefers a European solution on imports of grain from Ukraine , but if there is no common European framework, then the country would act on its own.  

Ukraine will place an export permit system to avoid market disruption, the Commission said. 

“This is an example of Ukraine and the EU working together in true unity and trust. When rules are followed and agreements are kept, Europe always wins,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said on X (formerly Twitter).

On Sunday, the European Commission called on Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to take a more conservative approach. EC is set to hold a meeting with all parties involved on Monday. 

Ukraine will go to the WTO for arbitration to seek compensation for damages resulting from violation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) if Poland blocks the export of Ukrainian grain,   Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on September 12. Grain is Ukrain'e biggest source of hard currency earnings.

"Despite the war and the Russian blockade of our ports, Ukraine  is fulfilling its obligations under both the Association Agreement with the EU and WTO law. We have no intention of harming Polish farmers. We greatly appreciate the support of the Polish people and Polish families!" Shmyhal wrote on X, formerly Twitter.