Ukraine is threatening to take legal action if individual EU member states introduce national bans on imports of Ukrainian grain after the expiry of the EU-wide restrictions on September 15. It has urged the European Commission to make a “rapid and fitting” reaction if countries such as Poland and Hungary go ahead with their plans.
The EU ban currently in place is growing into a flashpoint between Ukraine, the EU and the bloc’s so-called “frontline five” – Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania – bordering on Ukraine. The five countries – Poland and Hungary in particular – are pushing the EU for an extension of the ban, claiming that the uncontrolled influx of Ukrainian produce is hurting their domestic agriculture sectors. Lifting controls was part of the EU's response to Russia's blocking Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea, Kyiv's main trade route for its agricultural produce.
Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania have been reported as leaning toward accepting the end of the ban on September 15, leaving Warsaw and Budapest isolated on the issue, Polish broadcaster RMF FM said earlier this month.
The restrictions cover wheat, corn, sunflower seeds and rapeseed.
The Commission has long said that the ban will either apply bloc-wide or it will have to end. Keeping import restrictions in place by individual member states is against EU trade rules, Brussels says.
"The President of Ukraine very clearly told [Commission President Ursula von der Leyen] that … the decision of the European Commission to restrict Ukrainian exports is valid until September 15. And after that, it will not be valid," Igor Zhovkva, a deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, told Interfax-Ukraine in an interview on August 28.
Zhovkva also said that any decisions regarding the sale of Ukrainian grain in the EU must stick to the rules of the single market and the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU.
Otherwise, the official added, “Ukraine would have the option to employ various legal mechanisms to counteract”.
Both Poland and Hungary have said recently that they would keep their own national bans on Ukrainian grain imports.
Maintaining the ban on Ukrainian grain imports only until September 15 is a "political argument to further destabilise the situation in Poland,” Poland’s Agriculture Minister Robert Telus told broadcaster Polsat News on August 23. “We are not going to allow it,” Telus added.
Poland is amidst what is shaping up to be the tightest and most ruthless election campaign in decades ahead of the election on October 15, in which the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is fighting tooth-and-nail with the opposition to win a third straight term in office. Farmers are an important voter cohort in Poland and alienating them six weeks before the election could cost PiS power.
Hungary has also insisted that the bank must continue.
"Hungary will ask the EU to extend the ban from September 16," Gergely Gulyas, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff, said last week, according to Reuters. The official said that Hungary could go ahead unilaterally with a domestic ban if the restrictions are lifted.